José Andrés, right, attends The Capital Food Fight, the DC Central Kitchen’s signature
fundraising event and Washington DC’s biggest foodie event of the year.
Left: DCCK chef and TV personality Carla Hall.*
JOSE ANDRES, HUMANITARIAN CHEF, CANDIDATE FOR THE NOBEL
PEACE PRIZE & GUIDEPOST’S 2018 PERSON OF CHOICE
Part 2: Chef with a Social Conscience
By Rose Maramba
When Rep. John Delaney (D. MD.) nominated José Andrés for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in November 2018, it wasn’t because José was an immigrant-cook-turned-millionaire but because he is an accomplished chef with a heart of gold. His readiness to help out in a remarkably effective way produces social peace and sense of solidarity where there could easily have been hopelessness, disenchantment, public disturbance and even brutality.
Nor was José Andrés chosen by the Beard Foundation as Humanitarian of the Year for nothing; the James Beard Foundation knew what it was doing!
José Andrés’ humanitarian activism sprung into life in 2010, via the World Central Kitchen, in a prompt and massive response to the tragic human plight following the earthquake that devastated Haiti. He says, “I started World Central Kitchen because after traveling to post-earthquake Haiti, I saw that in order to make a positive impact on its communities, we needed to give relief by showing up, and creating sustainable solutions that would keep working long after the relief aid had left.”
Eight years later, WCK is still very much present in the tiny Caribbean nation.
Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries. At the time the disaster struck, 70% of the population of approximately 10 million people lived below the poverty line. An estimated 250,000 people (“guesstimate,” in the words of Anthony Penna, professor emeritus at the Northeastern University, MA) died. Five million people were displaced.
Broadly speaking, what WCK has been doing, and continues to do, in Haiti and in other places devasted by disasters, natural and manmade, is to provide “smart solutions to hunger and poverty,” per the nonprofit NGO’s website . World Central Kitchen “is changing the world through the eyes of a chef. As chefs, our work in the kitchen improves health, increases education rates, provides career skills, and creates food businesses.”
In Haiti, this translates among other things to Boulanjri and Pwason Beni (sustainable bakery); Chef Network Relief and Chef Network Training; “Fishermen First” (new fishing boats and processing equipment); “Food for Thought” (training for school cooks in sanitary procedures for preparing food in order to reduce missed school days due to food-borne illnesses); and Culinary School (hands-on training for over 30 rising chefs per year to create a talented hospitality workforce for the growing tourism industry).
When natural disaster strikes, WCK goes into action firstly by organizing local chefs, local produce, and local volunteers to feed the hapless victims. Then it motivates, educates and eases the local population into sustainable recovery and grouping it into self-reliant communities.
World Central Kitchen might as well take on an alias, say Cocineros Sin Fronteras/Chefs Without Borders, as there are some similarities between WCK and the highly successful Doctors Without Borders. Even José Andrés has admitted to the parallelism.
With Andrés as the leader – he’s a natural! – WCK’s disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 were awesome. So far, World Central Kitchen has served some 2.3 million meals to more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans, working from 25 kitchens with the help of over 19,000 volunteers. Grass-roots movement of chefs and volunteers established communications, food supplies, and other resources to serve those meals.
During the first month of the hurricane, when they were most needed not only to nourish the body but also the soul overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster, Andrés and WCK served hot meals nonstop. A feat that no other organization on the ground could match. A heroic act the Beard Foundation took note of when selecting the Humanitarian of the Year, and Rep. Delaney when nominating Andrés for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The heroism shone all the brighter against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s lamentable failure to provide timely and sufficient relief. Ironically, though, despite the fact that nearly 3,000 Americans (Americans!) died as a result of the hurricane – the same number as the 9/11 fatalities – Trump called his administration’s response to the tragedy as “incredible, unsung success.”
You might want to read the bestselling We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by José Andrés.
Where there are calamities, there is the “unifying and healing power of food” cooked on the spot, with WCK spearheading the selfless efforts. There’s palpable caring. Relentlessly effective work. No cumbersome hierarchies to botch the job. Just a direct horizontal approach.
Paradise fires. “Thanksgiving Together” dinner for the firemen . . . Latest and nearest to home: Free lunch for furloughed DC workers due to the government shutdown.
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José Andrés may or may not become a Nobel laureate come October 2019 when the Nobel Committee announces the winners of the different Awards.
José seems pleased about being nominated. “Oh wow,” he exclaimed. But this realist with a dream added, “Everybody gets nominated,” in reference to last year’s more than 300 nominees for the Peace Prize. He thought again and declared that the nomination shows “food is having a bigger impact every day” in U.S. politics.
With or without the Nobel Peace Prtize, he will remain an icon who works indefatigably to unite communities and inspires them through food.
The Activist Celebrity Chef
*DC Central Kitchen is a nationally recognized “community kitchen”. Known for recycling food from around Washington DC, it not only provides thousands of meals for local serice agencies; it uses the very same food as a tool to train unemployed adults to develop work skills. Chef José Andrés serves on the DCCK board. Photo taken 2013.