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‘We Have a Humanitarian Crisis.’ José Andrés on the Need to Make Sure Every American Is Fed During the Pandemic

3 minute read

Celebrity chef José Andrés says policies in the U.S. should ensure that every American is fed.

In a TIME 100 Talks discussion on Thursday, Andrés, whose charity, World Central Kitchen, has served 4 million meals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, says that while the U.S. produces enough food for the general population, structural issues prevent everyone from having nutritious meals. The pandemic has exacerbated problems many people face getting enough to eat, such as a lack of access to food banks or grocery stores. Food banks themselves have seen a sharp rise in demand as almost 30 million people have lost their jobs, and many food banks say they’re unable to keep up with demand.

“We have a humanitarian crisis,” says Andrés.

At the same time, farmers who cannot sell their fresh goods are being forced to throw out vast amounts of food, including milk, eggs, onions and potatoes. To combat the issue, Andrés suggests that the federal government work more with the private sector to see food that would typically be discarded gets to the right place.

“Make sure we pick up the excess food and deliver it to anywhere in America that’s in need of food,” he says. “There’s one thing we can do today: making sure every American is fed.”

Andrés says that despite having plenty of warning that the U.S. would be affected badly by the coronavirus, leaders did not act quickly enough to prepare Americans for the impact.

“I hope the young people of today will take over and understand that we must be prepared at every level to fight hunger, sickness, economic downturn,” he says. “As the grownups, we’re failing them.”

For his part, Andrés is getting food to those in need through World Central Kitchen, which has gained international recognition for showing up in moments of crisis, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, to feed people hot meals quickly. COVID-19 has forced the charity to adapt in a rapidly changing world. Unlike natural disasters, Andrés says, the destruction of COVID-19, which has killed more than 60,000 people in the U.S., remains somewhat invisible. Unless you’re directly affected, it an be easy to ignore the way the coronavirus has upended normal life.

World Central Kitchen has gained experience over the years to ensure it can safely serve people who might not have access to food, Andrés says. From New York City to Oakland, Calif. to cruise ships that were hit by the coronavirus, Andrés’s team has worked across the globe to ensure people eat.

“The experience we’ve been gaining on the ground, this has been very helpful for us to create the right health code, the right approach to make sure everybody will be safe,” he says.

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com