Chef José Andrés views food as a national security issue. He also believes there is a need for a radical shift in the approach to addressing hunger and the role of international organizations in combating this crisis.
In a pre-recorded conversation with CEPA CEO and President Alina Polyakova broadcast to the 2023 CEPA Forum on September 28, Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen (WCK), also discussed his organization’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the broader implications of food insecurity.
WCK is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing food and humanitarian assistance in disaster-stricken areas worldwide. Its presence in Ukraine was the first time it deployed to a war zone. CEPA presented its 2023 Humanitarian Impact Award to Andrés in recognition of his organization’s work in Ukraine.
A central theme of the conversation, however, was the importance of recognizing food security as a critical element of national and global security. Andrés argued that world leaders should consider food a national security issue, and this perspective should drive policy and resource allocation. “Food is a national security issue. Don’t take it for granted,” Andrés said. He called on leaders to consider appointing national security food advisers.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated global food shortages by severely impacting agricultural production in Ukraine — often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe — as farms have been destroyed, farmers have been displaced, and grain supply lines have been disrupted. The ripple effects are felt by the world’s poorest, who are reliant on Ukrainian food.
Andrés was skeptical that large international organizations like the United Nations (UN) are equipped to tackle the issue of global hunger. “Will the UN be the right place to help end hunger? I’m sorry to say that I’m not sure,” he said. He specifically noted the inability of the UN’s World Food Programme to reach all countries in need due to budget limitations.
He proposed new approaches to combating hunger, arguing for a startup mentality where smaller, more specialized organizations operate with clear objectives and a strong focus on return on investment. Such an approach aims to maximize the impact of aid efforts by ensuring that resources are channeled directly into areas where they are needed most, rather than being diluted across a large bureaucratic structure.
Andrés raised a critical question about the feasibility of achieving the UN’s wide-ranging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and suggested that achieving Zero Hunger was achievable and should be singled out.
WCK’s response to the Russian invasion in Ukraine was to identify the need for 24/7 food distribution systems as refugees poured into neighboring countries like Poland. Andrés emphasized the critical role of restaurants and local communities in supporting WCK’s efforts. They mobilized a vast network of volunteers, contractors, and restaurants to deliver hot meals and essential supplies.
Andrés praised the resilience of Ukrainians, who displayed remarkable adaptability in the face of adversity.
He was impressed by the unity of the Ukrainian nation and the support for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “That is probably one of the key elements of why Ukraine has been able to hold this military superpower, when, on paper, they were supposed to be taken in less than three days,” he said.