“This is a natural disaster,” Andrés said when asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper why the government isn’t doing more to help with food insecurity in the US.
“I think the federal government has been missing in action with many announcements of things that they look good on paper, but that then, when you go on the ground, you see that things are not working,” he said. “One way to feed the hungry is making sure that we make the political will. We need to redefine what it means to take care of Americans.”
The interview was part of the “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute.” Andrés is currently on the Colombian island of San Andrés working with his non-profit, World Central Kitchen, to feed survivors of Hurricane Iota, the final named storm of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season — and also the year’s strongest.
Over the past few years, the award-winning chef has responded to several major crises. After an earthquake devastated Haiti, Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, wildfires scorched Southern California, and a refugee crisis intensified on the Venezuelan border, he quickly mobilized volunteer chefs in each of those spots to prepare meals for thousands of people in need.
Now, during the global coronavirus pandemic, Andrés has been leading the charge to provide food relief to the elderly, those suddenly without work and frontline health care and essential workers.
‘We must do better’
The Covid-19 crisis posed a monumental challenge for World Central Kitchen, Andrés said.
“Before we knew, the same thing was happening in Oakland, California,” he said.
In April, the organization assembled another chef relief team to feed passengers and crew quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Oakland.
As the pandemic spread, Andrés ramped up food relief efforts to also help the many families now struggling to put food on the table. He said World Central Kitchen found a flood of people arriving in food lines for the first time in their lives.
“They are having a hard time, because they lost their job, because they, for different reasons, they are not able to get unemployment, or they never got the unemployment,” he said. “This, to a degree, is wrong, (this) shouldn’t be the American way. We can do better. We must do better.”
‘The smart way to do it’
Andrés points fingers at both Democrats and Republicans for the political gridlock forcing too many American’s to depend on NGOs and soup kitchens.
“It’s actually Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky, where 13% of the people say they don’t have enough to eat, as well as Nancy Pelosi’s California, where it’s 11%,” he said. “This is a problem that shouldn’t be happening. Congress, the Senate, the White House — they must put into place all the resources we have.”
“Every dollar you spend to feed somebody, you are putting the economy back at work,” he added. “This is the smart way to do it.”
During the interview, Andrés also took a moment to recognize the unsung heroes who inspire him.
He mentioned Fatima Castillo, a Guatemalan volunteer whose local knowledge helped World Central Kitchen feed her community following the eruption of Volcano Fuego in 2018. He also applauded Marcus Samuelsson, a celebrity chef whose work feeding those in need is not as well-known as his restaurants.
The chef also credited the young people he has seen stepping up around the world.
“It makes me feel good — because I see young people ready to jump in, not caring about who you are, your religion, the color of your skin, what’s the accent you have speaking English,” he said. “They (have) one goal in mind: to make sure that they can provide aid and relief and hope with a smile.”