On Sunday, celebrity chef José Andrés was interviewed by various media about his new book that recounts his participation in relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. Andrés has been vocally critical of President Donald Trump and settled a lawsuit with the Trump organization last year as part of a dispute involving services at one of Trump’s hotels. He was critical of statements that Trump made about immigration from Mexico in 2015.

Chef Jose Andres’s new book is “We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time.”

In an interview on CBS on Sunday, Andres said that he was disappointed with his work on the storm-tossed island and that thinks he could have done more for victims of Hurricane Maria. Over the course of three months, he and his government subsidized nonprofit prepared three million meals for victims of the storm. He said he “failed” Puerto Ricans because he “was only” able to do 120,000 to 250,000 meals a day.

“I wish I was able to look him in the eyes while he was having maybe dinner, in the restaurant, in his hotel, and tell him, ‘Mr. Trump, we are failing the people of Puerto Rico, and we should not. I have a plan to feed them all. Give me the power to help you and to help the island,’” the chef told CBS News correspondent David Begnaud. Andres claimed that 3,000 people “maybe died” because of a lack of adequate food, water, tarps, and generators. “Because we didn’t do those things as quick as we were supposed to, people died. That’s why an NGO like mine failed,” Andres said of his World Central Kitchen nonprofit.

On Univision, show host Jorge Ramos asked Andres about his experience dealing with government bureaucracy while he was assisting storm victims. Ramos has also been critical of Trump. Both Andres and Ramos are naturalized American citizens. Here follows a translation of their conversation from Spanish: 

JORGE RAMOS, HOST, AL PUNTO: Have you found, José Andrés, the formula for helping people? Something that governments can’t do? What do you do that governments don’t know how to?

CHEF JOSÉ ANDRÉS: The folks that work in government are wonderful people. They’re like you and like me. They want to do the best they can, but sometimes there are so many laws, so many regulations, that they’re often trapped within their own system which, in theory, was designed to help. When an organization like ours shows up we have...we have no rules. Our only thing is the mission. The mission is to give people food and drink. And, simply, we turn any problem into an opportunity.

JORGE RAMOS: This is to say, governments and NGOs have much to learn from you, no? The freshness, the energy, the clarity- and leaving bureaucracies aside.

CHEF JOSÉ ANDRÉS: I believe that sometimes when the large NGOs, in this case, FEMA…

JORGE RAMOS: The Red Cross…

CHEF JOSÉ ANDRÉS: The Red Cross, the Salvation Army...there comes a time when they are (made up of) so many people that, sometimes, perhaps they forgot how they started out. And I believe that what we bring is, simply, freshness. Our mission- One: to feed people. What do we need? Kitchens, food, volunteers. Two: We need to know where the different shelters or communities are that have been totally neglected. We establish contact. We begin to cook, we begin to feed. Problem solved. Often when you start to talk about government or large NGOs, they want to start with, “Well, we need to fill out a form. We need…” No, people. People are hungry NOW, not a week from now, not a month from now.

JORGE RAMOS: It’s today.

José Andrés did not mention that the philanthropy he founded, World Central Kitchen, was a multi-million dollar contractor. According to FEMA, World Central Kitchen was awarded two contracts for services in Puerto Rico. The first contract was in effect from October 4-11 of 2017, providing 120,000 meals a day at a cost of $5,040,000. For the second contract, the nonprofit prepared 240,000 meals per day (many of which were hot) for 53 days at a cost of $76,320,000. The cost of the meals averaged about $6. 

FEMA has since become aware of the unprecedented logistical challenges of distributing more than 35 million meals in 60 days, “making it the largest emergency food and water distribution effort in FEMA history.” To prepare the island for future emergencies, FEMA has “increased warehouse capacity from one distribution center to five” and stockpiled 3.8 million meals and about 3.6 million gallons of water.

Acording to the Wall Street Journal, Andres disputed with FEMA over its disaster management plan. However, the August 30 article noted: "Eventually, he negotiates a series of reimbursement contracts worth millions. The agency’s most important asset, he suggests, is the funding it’s able to offer."

 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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