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Celebrity chef Jose Andres on why food is a national security issue

Restaurateur and chef Jose Andres is well known for his efforts to feed people in disaster areas across the globe. Now, his World Central Kitchen has a new challenge: supporting Americans suffering hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has already served a million meals and hopes to expand even beyond the 100,000 people it feeds daily. Jeffrey Brown talked to Andres about his mission.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The efforts of restaurateur and chef Jose Andres are now well-known, as he has helped feed those in disaster areas in the U.S. and around the world.

    His World Central Kitchen has a new challenge now. Working in close to 30 cities around the country, it has now served one million meals, and hopes to expand even beyond the 100,000 people it is feeding daily.

    Jeffrey Brown talked to Andres about how his effort fits into the larger coronavirus picture.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    On the front lines of fighting the effects of a pandemic, what Jose Andres calls food first responders.

  • Jose Andres:

    We have been talking about the health crisis, the economic crisis, but I don't think we have been talking enough about the humanitarian crisis.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The Spanish-born Andres first made his name as a celebrity chef. But after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, and in other disaster zones around the world, including Guatemala, Indonesia and Mozambique, he's organized efforts to feed those in need during emergencies.

    Working from his Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, his team has coordinated ground-level partnerships with local restaurants and grocers. They have also pushed for stronger policies to prioritize food as a national security issue.

    Now he and his team are working in cities around the country during the pandemic.

    In what ways are you able to use what you have learned from the past? In what ways do you have to adapt?

  • Jose Andres:

    Well, usually in a hurricane, in a tsunami, in a volcano, it's total destruction. You have to show up, provide food and water relief as soon as you can. It's what we call the urgency of now.

    This is, like, slowly happening in front of your eyes. We saw what was happening in Italy, in Spain, where I'm from. And what we began doing is, what's the plan? What are we doing?

    And so we began coming up with ideas that slowly we have been putting into work.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    His group has set up large community kitchens and drive-through pickup locations, helped the Grand Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of California, and is feeding health care workers, including at this outpost in New York's Central Park.

  • Man:

    So, we're going to be doing 1,000 of these.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    They have just started preparing meals in Washington's baseball stadium, with a goal of tens of thousands per day, and delivering them to public housing and hospitals using Uber, Lyft, and other means..

    And Andres is calling for food support to be a larger part of the federal government's next economic aid package, even in recent days pressing some two dozen legislators to help restaurants and, in turn, help those most in need.

  • Jose Andres:

    We need to be feeding the firefighters and the police. Use local restaurants near their stations.

    Do we need to be feeding elderly homes? If you don't have an NGO that can take care of that, hire the restaurants to do this. In the process, the restaurants become part of the community, become part of the solution.

    If, in this process, rural farmers are out of business because restaurants like mine, we don't buy from them anymore, and the USDA doesn't come with money to protect them so they can keep producing food, putting food on the table, so every American, and, in the process, we reinvigorate rural America.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Are you concerned that many restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses you work with just won't survive?

  • Jose Andres:

    Yes, I'm worried. We need to understand that the restaurant economy is one of the most generous economies.

    Of the more — of 800,000, 900,000 restaurants we have in America, more than 90 percent, it goes down into the economy and enriches every single corner. A restaurant, small businesses are very important, are part of the DNA of what America is.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Everybody's focused on right now, but can you think, or can you look a little bit ahead, a few years ahead to the impact of all of this for potential changes for U.S. food policy?

  • Jose Andres:

    I believe that food is a national security issue.

    We need to be having people in the White House, in Congress, where they see the problems that food can create in the world. We take food for granted.

    We need to make sure that, when something like this happens, we have people on top of distribution, farming output. Our food sources should be part of the national security conversation, in the same way we talk about missiles protecting us.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Jose Andres, thank you very much and good luck.

  • Jose Andres:

    Thank you.

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