Fighting the Crisis with Food, with José Andrés
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Andy catches up with Chef José Andrés in a rare moment of rest. Chef Andrés has been jumping from one crisis to the next since February, feeding people around the world affected by the pandemic. His organization, World Central Kitchen, is now providing 250,000 fresh meals a day in dozens of cities across America. In total, they’ve served nearly 18 million meals worldwide. They talk about how the pandemic has exacerbated the global hunger crisis and what Chef Andrés is doing to try and solve it. Plus: how to re-open restaurants safely.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt
Follow Chef José Andrés @chefjoseandres on Twitter and Instagram.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Zach Fact Update: How much will the COVID-19 drug Remdesivir cost? https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2020/06/29/remdesivir-gilead-coronavirus-covid-19-drug-price-criticism/
- Dr. Peter Bach of Sloan Kettering Cancer Center weighs in on the price: https://twitter.com/peterbachmd/status/1277600751204917248
- Check out Chef Andrés’s opinion piece in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/restaurants-coronavirus-food-aid.html
- And in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/20/our-people-are-hungry-we-need-leader-who-will-feed-them/
- Read more about World Central Kitchen’s Covid-19 food relief efforts: https://wck.org/chefsforamerica
- Meet Masky, World Central Kitchen’s safety mascot: https://wck.org/masky
- Learn about how the Independent Restaurant Coalition is working to save local restaurants affected by COVID-19: https://www.saverestaurants.com
- Here’s more information about the RESTAURANTS Act, a bipartisan bill which would establish a revitalization fund for independent restaurants affected by COVID-19: https://restaurant.org/news/pressroom/press-releases/restaurants-act-of-2020
- More on the FEED Act: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2020/05/07/a-bipartisan-group-of-lawmakers-and-jose-andres-want-to-empower-fema-to-meet-americas-growing-hunger-crisis/
[00:38] Angelina Jolie: I knew that there were problems in America. I knew that there was poverty. I could not believe when I realized how many school children in America were dependent on a meal. I really was so disgusted that we have gotten to this point as a country and that we would let the most vulnerable be in such a state.
[01:08] Andy Slavitt: Welcome to In the Bubble, this is Andy Slavitt. We’ve got a great episode for you today. Chef José Andrés is on. And you just heard from Angelina Jolie, who was talking about the crisis in food in this country. And it’s obviously going to be a theme of the episode as chef José Andrés is the man who feeds literally millions and millions of people, in addition to being a celebrity chef. We’ve got an amazing conversation with him trying to get a scope of the challenge that coming along with the pandemic, lots of other problems. One of them, obviously, is people not getting enough to eat for a variety of reasons. Zach, any sense of the scope of that problem?
[01:53] Zach Slavitt: Yeah, it’s actually much more widespread than a lot of people might think, especially among children. So here’s something from DoSomething.org. One in six children may not know where their next meal is coming from. That’s 12 million children, a little over 12 million. And a lot of them are taken care of by school lunches, which they’re going to need to find a solution about if schools can’t return in the same capacity as before.
[02:18] Andy Slavitt: So is that statistic from before the pandemic or after the pandemic?
[02:22] Zach Slavitt: That’s before. I couldn’t find anything after the pandemic.
[02:26] Andy Slavitt: Wow. So this is a crisis on top of a crisis. And, you know, I think one of the things worth mentioning on this episode is that people talk a lot about some of the other things that are going on — mental health, which we’ve talked about; obviously, employment; people feeling at risk; strained relationships. And poverty, which is a real problem in this country, rears itself up when you see these kinds of food lines. And this is where I just say, thank God we have people in this country that are willing to step up and lead like chef José Andrés is. This is a part of us that I think makes us great, as much as anything else. And you’ll hear in the conversation with Chef that he started this literally the moment that he heard about the virus, went all the way to Japan, came back all the way here, and all the places that that’s led, him high and low. It’s a phenomenal story. In fact, after we were done, we kept talking and we just both kept recording. And we had kind of a more typical conversation that, again, I usually have, kind of a friendly conversation where his guard was down even further. And after the Fourth of July, we’re going to put that conversation up on Patreon for our member listeners. And there’s something poetic about that, because the money that we make when people donate and get a Patreon subscription, the first check went to World Central Kitchen. So if you’re so inclined, we’d love you to do that. So about to get to the chef. Zach, I’m going to keep you honest to something. Bunch of episodes ago, one of your facts was about the drug remdesivir. Remember that? And you told us that they were doing a trial in Japan. And I asked if it might be coming to the U.S. And you said yes. I asked if you would keep us posted. You told us that the time that you thought it might be priced pretty highly. So give us the update.
[04:33] Zach Slavitt: Yeah, this morning, Gilead said remdesivir will cost insurers $3,000 and developed nations a little over $2,000, which includes the U.S. And so Trump stockpiled another 500,000 doses. So a lot of people are thinking this price is too high, which makes sense because it’s very expensive. But Gilead is saying they could have charged $12,000 for it, which I think is believable, but remember, there was U.S. taxpayer money going to help create the drug and helping to test it. So a lot of people are kind of upset.
[05:19] Andy Slavitt: Well, we’ll put an analysis online in the show notes. The people at Memorial Sloan who do the analysis of drug pricing will evaluate it. But I think you’re hearing from Zach and I think it’s too high, and hopefully we’ll get no beef from insurance companies about paying for it. All right. Now, José Andrés, let’s ring him up.
[05:51] José Andrés: Hey, Andy. How are you?
[05:57] Andy Slavitt: I’m OK. Are you at home?
[06:02] José Andrés: I’m in Spain. I came to check the operation here and, quite frankly, to take a little break because I’m overworked. I’m exhausted mentally more than anything.
[06:20] Andy Slavitt: You’ve had a hell of a journey. I mean, at some point in March, when the Diamond Princess docked in Oakland through today, can you explain what happened when the ship docked and what you did next?
[06:36] José Andrés: Well, Oakland was only the follow-up. We had ready the entire team in Yokohama. And why we were in Yokohama? Because Princess called us. And then even the Japanese government, once they find out who we were, the reason is that in the Bahamas, after Dorian, Princess Cruises actually was very supportive of our efforts and the 3.5 million meals we did there. And that connection is what made them call us because they saw that we could resolve any issue. They call us, asking us for help, but they don’t really think they knew that already we were working in places with cholera, like in Haiti or Mozambique before. Obviously, cholera and Covid-19 are very different in essence. But nonetheless, these people die because of it and we handled it very well in those areas. So I will say we had already training on that front of feeding people, making sure we are not contaminated, we don’t contaminate anybody.
[07:41] José Andrés: So at the end of the day, an NGO created by cooks was the right one to help them. So we were there for many weeks. We got a lot of help from different Japanese friends. And we will prepare the food outside and bring it to our warm zone near the boat and then deliver it with a crane, 18,000 meals a day. That happened in Oakland and I went there to support the team. The same team as was in Yokohama moved to Oakland and they did an amazing job. I was so proud of the way we responded, the way we kept ourselves safe, and the way we produced the food and the way we delivered the food. We did the whole thing. It felt very good because this was an emergency. We had to adapt and we did a very good job. But that was only the beginning, as you know.
[08:49] Andy Slavitt: Yes. And you had from that day on, I want to talk about the number of meals that you do deliver, the number of restaurants you’ve kept open, and central to the role of food. But the reason I wanted to start with that question is because, while so many of us were paralyzed by this news that there is a virus and a pandemic, you jumped in from the first day. And to do all of that, I assume you had to get PPE and you had to do all of these things that even the hospitals and the governments couldn’t do.
[09:22] José Andrés: Yeah, I began following this pandemic in Wuhan early on for a very simple reason. As you know, I teach at George Washington. I teach a class which is the connection of food and the different areas that connect the world, which is every area: immigration, economic growth, health, pop culture, history, you name it, national security, politics. And we spoke, not specifically in detail about the pandemic, but about the different in more ways than one, the different situations where food could be a challenge because external factors, like terrorism, that we don’t talk about, or like a virus like we don’t talk enough about. When Wuhan began, one of my best friends is Ambassador Jorge Guajardo, he was one of the youngest Mexican ambassadors, and he served six years in China. He, to this day, is I will say an expert in Chinese matters. He follows closely everything that happens. And he kept me informed. And he will send me, very much like you, that kept me smart and informed, and so many more people following your daily tweets and other things you do. He told me what was going on in Wuhan, how the food systems were working, how they would deliver the food in an area — we’re talking about millions and millions of people that were totally shut down, that they were not allowed to leave their homes. Inside my head, the entire thing I began asking the questions. And I tried to get the answers. And if I don’t get the answers, I try to imagine the answers. Then when everything began happening and obviously after Oakland is when we began putting our system in place. We already had, for example, masks. We had the N95 and K95.
[11:20] José Andrés: And we have thousands of them because we were ordering them for our cooks. And we always had. Who was going to tell us that those masks were going to be in need by every single hospital in the world? So obviously, as we found out that this was going to be a shortage, we began giving them away. Myself, I went almost to every hospital I knew in the area from Children’s Hospital, John Hopkins, Veterans, Baltimore, you name it, and I gave them away as people told me that they were short. So it felt good. But this is the mentality, right? We have experts that are paid — and I don’t mean paid in a bad way, it’s their job to foresee the future.
Why are science fiction directors, why is Steven Speilberg better at foreseeing the future than our real-life experts. Think about it for a second. Every science fiction movie has an answer. Why in our real life movie we don’t have the same answer. So as an organization, we try to think ahead.
[12:45] Andy Slavitt: So one of the things you’ve taught me is how food is central to everything you can think of. And I want to introduce you to someone who eats a lot. He’s 18, so the amount of calories he can justify is incredible. He’s also the co-host of this podcast. My son Zach.
[13:07] Zach Slavitt: Hello. Nice to meet you. So the U.S. has all kinds of excess food that’s wasted every year, but people are still going hungry every day, even before Covid. So why is this still a problem and what do you think is the solution?
[13:21] José Andrés: That’s a great question, and I think we’re going to have to find the answer very soon. This is not only the United States of America, but this is their whole seven billion going to eight very soon. If we are able to produce so much, and we are becoming smarter about production. We are very good at producing calories, but still we are good in producing nutrients. Why are we not able to bring calories and nutrients — which, they should be together, they are one, but you know what I mean by nutrition means a calorie that really, really brings everything you need to be healthy. And the issue is distribution. That’s one of the problems. This pandemic was an open heart to our way of running America and running the world. We saw photos of farmers dropping zucchinis and potatoes in the middle of the fields.
[14:19] José Andrés: They will not only rot and they will become fertilizer to the land. So it’s OK. It is not total waste, it will enrich the soil. But as we saw food being wasted, we saw lines of people that were hungry and in need. And this solution is simple, obviously has to be political. You have to have the will to make it happen. If we put people on the moon back in 1969, we can achieve a certain level of distribution. At the end of the day, what we need is this: we need the nonprofit Amazon of food that is about to go to waste distribution. No yogurt should go to waste anymore. We should be coming up with new systems that we differentiate what should be the recommended time frame of consumption. And the real life of that product. It is two different things. We waste a lot of food because we put some safety rules that they don’t know if more because consumption than reality. I’ve eaten yogurts, and I’m not saying everybody should, but my mom used to give me yogurt that was two weeks past their date. And look at me. I don’t ook so bad after all. We need this solution, we need political will and we need to think out of the box. We keep repeating the same recipes of failure of the past, we must create new recipes to move into the future. And they don’t require a person with a high IQ coefficient. I don’t have it. We need people that will say no more food deserts. We keep talking about food deserts in America. We should have the political will to say no more food deserts. It is doable, is highly doable. It’s only political will, the right private sector people, the right NGOs and the right frame on the Hill to make sure that we will say no children should be hungry and no American should be hungry. That should be the very minimum. And no food should be wasted. Wasting food means you are wasting lives. You waste life, there are people that fall out of their community, fall out of society because of hunger. Let’s make sure that hunger is not an issue and you will see how many more people will succeed in this country of ours and on planet Earth.
[18:45] Andy Slavitt: What’s a really nutritious, low-cost, perfect kind of meal that everybody can afford, that we can distribute to people that you think about is just good eating?
[18:57] José Andrés: Well, number one, we need to be talking about where the food is being produced. And sometimes there is war between mass production and smaller farming and more local. And I don’t think they should be at odds. We need some farms that they produce big quantities of wheat, but then we need the local systems to be strong. If the local systems are farming and food production is strong and you rely much less on things that will happen in other parts of your country, on other parts of the world. If you have a good, strong local game, whatever you are able to be getting local is going to be good. We need to be going to the market — I will not say every day, I used to go everyday when I was young. If you go every four or five days, even once a week, if you have a refrigerator or home, allows you to buy fresh foods. And then you will say, what will be the play that can feed the world? Obviously the world is very big and is different regions and different countries and continents. But I did these recipes through this pandemic Chefs for the People, and I will cook with my daughters. And I know other chefs did that. And sometimes we will bread, all bread that people usually will throw because it’s hard and nobody knows what to do with it. At my house, we never throw it because we make bread crumbs and we use it for breading chicken or zucchini or whatever we cook with. But with the bread crumbs, not the tiny ones. When you have the bread, you put it in water, you cut it in pieces, and then you sauté it with oil and garlic and some bay leaves and some thyme. And that toasted bread is a great. You have a little piece of protein, or you have two eggs. Those two eggs and that bread that you were about to throw in the garbage can be one of the best meals you can have in your entire life.
[21:00] José Andrés: Sometimes I do fasting. I know for a fact that if you are not careful, the same food that you love can make me unhealthy. Because even if I had the best quality, healthy food in the world, if you eat too much of it, is no good either. So you asked me a question that is hard to answer in a short answer. But I think all families, all people, they have to have their to-go recipe. My wife in my home is the one that dictates very much the menus, even more than me. I am more their special teams kind of guy. But in my house we will eat, it’s always once a week will be lentils with carrots and potatoes, a very big stew of lentils. I love it. Once a week, we will have green beans with potatoes boiled. You strain them. Olive oil, paprika. We will do some garlic with hot oil. We’ll put it on top. And then a little bit of vinegar, a big tray of green beans and potatoes. And I love it. So as you see, it is not very difficult to eat well. Sometimes I have a feeling we over complicate our lives because we see so much TV and so many magazines with complicated dishes that since everybody has to be super complicated to look good. In my house, some of the best meals are one, two, three ingredients, period.
[22:36] Zach Slavitt: Another problem that I’ve noticed is a lot of the healthiest organic natural foods are more expensive. And the people who need those foods can’t afford them. Do you think the whole system is poorly designed in terms of the healthiest food can’t be bought by a lot of the people who need it?
[22:57] José Andrés: Yeah, it’s a very big conversation on the meaning of organic. There is still no consensus of what organic means, and it’s a lot of people that do organic that based on the standards of other people is not really organic. I will say more important that organic is if you can know as many as two or three or four farmers, and you get to know them, and you’ll see that the children come to the market every weekend, every year after year. And you are able to have conversations with them about how they tend their farm, their land. That’s the best conversation, because at the end of the day, farmers that you believe in, they’re going to do what is right. Not only for you, but because their children also depend on it. And that, to me, is something that has been a good lesson. That’s why it’s so important to have local farmers and local production. Organic is not my main emphasis right now, because as we see still we have hunger beyond America in the world. I want to make sure that we are able to produce, and that we are able to make sure that it reaches the people at a price that is affordable. If we are able to produce, but then people cannot afford it, we are not solving the problem, still we’re going to have hunger. So I like obviously more than use the word organic is use make sure it’s local and make sure that the farmers have the answers for you when you ask them, because if you ask them, do you add anything? And probably I’ll tell you yeah, but guess what? Sometimes the same thing they add to their farm is the same thing that winemaker’s add to their wine, and doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. So if they are adding sulfides here and there for this and that and it’s done in the right moment, maybe it’s good, because they don’t want to contaminate their land. They don’t want to contaminate their water sources. And wherever they are doing, you want to believe that they are doing it in the right way because they learn it from the family before, their grandfathers and grandfathers before. So for me, local, it’s very important because that, because you are making sure that the people producing the food are taking care of their communities and their region and the state you are living.
[25:15] Andy Slavitt: Right. It’s making accessible fresh food. Let’s go back and talk about politics, because you mentioned that it is a critical ingredient. At the start of the pandemic, I didn’t go to the Diamond Princess Cruise Line because, you know, I’m not you, but I tried to do what I thought I could on the health care front. And, you know, in some ways there is an analogy where people who were supposed to be leading, or who is the most efficient to be leading, didn’t seem to be taking it seriously or wanting to solve the problem. And so, you know, I think like many people, if you felt like you had something to contribute, I was jumping in, and it took me to some of the areas that I didn’t expect. Whether it’s buying masks or finding equipment or tests or low-income communities and what were the challenges there and mental health and so forth. And one thing that I kept running into was food. And health care, increasingly people run into this idea of food. And I think I may have told you this story, but there is a CEO from a hospital who learned a very common lesson I think people are learning, which is he believed that his community had a big adolescent obesity problem. And when he asked people to solve it, what they discovered was that they didn’t have an obesity problem, they had a hunger problem that was disguised as an obesity problem. And people were eating salty and sugary low-cost snacks because they couldn’t get lunch at school. So they ended up, if they thought they were solving the problem of getting kids to eat less, it turned out that it was the opposite.
[26:54] Andy Slavitt: You and I, I think, met each other and started talking because we were running into some overlapping situations. But when you think about where the leadership should come from, it’s clearly come from World Central Kitchen and yourself. But what should the Department of Agriculture, the government, be doing to get us through a crisis like this when so many people literally don’t know how they’re going to be eating?
[27:21] José Andrés: Yeah, number one we were talking about a health crisis, and we were behind and still probably we are behind, because the health crisis has many angles that you need to cover. But on the food department was not supposed to be complicated. What I tried to do at World Central Kitchen was cover as many blind spots as we could. As you know, we are about to reach 20 million meals. We already reach over two million meals in Spain. Of the 20 million meals, many went to hospitals. Quarter million meals a day at one point, we reached 300, 350. Many hospitals, actually, Mayor Bloomberg, help us take care of three meals a day in 17, 18 hospitals in Manhattan alone. I’ve been to many myself. My daughters, they’ve been bringing meals to NIH children’s hospitals every day because it’s next to our home. And Inez, my second daughter, she’s been volunteering in one of the kitchens we have in D.C. and on her way back, she will always deliver to the hospital. So this is the things we did: homeless centers. Homeless in the streets. Myself, I will go everyday to your town. You will see me in the same places in your town, in the same places in Franklin Square if I was not traveling somewhere around the country. So we tried to cover that with thousands of volunteers. And some very interesting partnerships with over to deliver home to home because elderly people couldn’t leave their home because they were handicapped, or because people had immune system issues and you had to take care of them to protect them.
[29:06] José Andrés: I’m very proud of the many elderly homes we did, and those are elderly homes did very well with the pandemic. I remember being in March in one that they told everybody you’re doing great, but make sure that they don’t open to visitors openly here. We keep bringing the food every day, but please. I’m very glad to see that they managed very well the pandemic in that elderly home. And they never had any issues and many others did have issues. But I’m very proud that in the places we were, we didn’t. But then answering your question food wise, I was very early on at the USDA department, in an empty USDA, their undersecretary received me with his team, we gave some ideas. We heard some of the ideas they had. But we need to understand that USDA is not our emergency organization. So it’s very hard if you don’t recognize you have an emergency on your hands to act like an emergency. Even FEMA, they don’t behave like an emergency sometimes. The urgency of now is sometimes forgotten. We have emergency in our banks, we treat any situation like if they are our guest and if they are expecting lunch, we will deliver lunch. And if not, we failed. Not next week. Not next month. That lunch. If the emergency began this morning, we are delivering you lunch no matter what. We will find the way. We need that urgency.
[30:45] José Andrés: I was very proud that Vice President Biden invite me to a town hall. I think it’s the first time in the history of America elections that five months before Election Day, a presidential candidate has a town hall about food. Obviously, I wish was live, and full of people. It was online. But still, I’m very proud that a possible president had the entire one hour dedicated to food and food issues. I do believe that food should be treated as a national security issue. Somebody should be sitting near the president advising of food issues. We can spend a fraction on making sure we have a plan that will save America money, will make America healthier. We will feed children better. We will create jobs in the process. We will make rural communities stronger and richer. I do believe is a true opportunity out of this pandemic to achieve many of those things if we have the right leadership that gives food the importance it deserves. Brillat-Savarin in 1826, the French philosopher, said the destiny of the nations will depend on how they feed themselves. If Napoleon Bonaparte was so smart in 1800s to give 10,000 gold francs to anybody that will come up with a system to feed his troops in the front lines. And because of him, canning food was invented. We need to make sure that we bring smart people, probably from the military, concentrated only on the food and make sure that every food problem we have becomes an opportunity.
[35:47] Andy Slavitt: There was a point in time when the food banks were running very low. It wasn’t for lack of fresh food, but you explained to me how it was very difficult to get food that was used to going to point A, instead going to point B. And the Department of Agriculture approved a little bit of money, which you put into context for me, I think it was $3 billion, and it was very concerning when it felt to me like some of the big multinational corporations were going to benefit from that money, and it wasn’t really solving the problem.
[36:22] José Andrés: Yeah, I mean, I think what the USDA did in partnership with the White House, this is kind of an idea I also throw out. Remember, I wrote two opinion pieces, one in The Washington Post and one in The New York Times. One was more a generic way of we will feed America. And the other was more a more detail of how we’re doing it. Both were very important. And I know many of these came out from those two, which I’m very proud. And quite frankly, they’re not even my ideas. These things I’ve learned, I’ve observed others doing, mix of both, my ideas, I don’t even know. But use the right strategy to keep America fed. So USDA, the farmers to family, which actually World Central Kitchen had nothing to do with it, but we’ve been getting some of those boxes to deliver them where we are doing meals, because once we have the infrastructure, as we had to deliver, was very easy for us also to deliver those boxes. What they did is they did the bidding process all across America. It’s always bidding, which I understand you need to give an opportunity to everybody. Some of the companies were good companies like Caribbean Produce in Puerto Rico. That’s a very good organization, is very good at distribution and logistics. They will keep the islands fat. If you are with them is not a problem. So they got some of the contracts for some of Puerto Rican Virgin Islands. And they did a very good job. Other places, there were companies of two people that never did food before. This is one thing that America has to change. FEMA or USDA, when they give contracts away — and I’m sure it happens in every other department, but I’m talking food. Don’t give food to companies who have never handled food before.
[38:21] José Andrés: For example, Puerto Rico is the only time ever I work with FEMA, that FEMA gave us money. They call it a contract. I hate it. They cannot give us a contract. We are an NGO. We don’t do it for profit. Our profit is feeding the people. That’s our profit. Our profit is feeling good that we took care of their people. That’s the profit. That’s what we get. That’s our return on investment. So I hate when they say we are giving you a contract. You’re not giving me anything. You are partnering with me and I’m the only option you have in some cases. In Puerto Rico. they gave a contract worth a $145 million to a catering of two people in Atlanta. Two people! A catering of two people. When we couldn’t get anything into the airport or into the port because it was chaos in the ports, because to this day we don’t have a program for emergencies that handles all the big containers coming into ports. We don’t, and we should. Do you know how many meals of the $150, $160 million dollar for 20, 30 million meals? Zero! No meals came. They gave us a contract. Ones that fell and they had the speaker Ryan and other people visiting the island. And we were the scapegoat of we are doing something. I became The Hunger Games.
[39:52] José Andrés: The other day they did a tweet. FEMA was saying — I don’t know if it was a thank you. They say World Central Kitchen is doing food. Number one: I think that people of FEMA are good people. In emergencies, they give their best. With that, I don’t mean I’m not going to stop criticizing the way the organization is created. And if people don’t speak up, we will never deliver to the American people what FEMA should be delivering more often than not. Especially in the very bad ones, is one we always fail. FEMA shouldn’t be there for the easy ones. FEMA should be there for the total catastrophes. That’s what they should be exceeding expectations, and they always are under. So FEMA did a tweet saying World Central Kitchen has done 15 million meals. I tweeted back saying thank you very much. We can do so much together if we will work together. Because they have resources. Sometimes I have a feeling that they are too big and they don’t even know how to use their own resources. You give me the resources they had in Puerto Rico, the helicopters that they were not flying because they didn’t have missions, and National Guard that sometimes they didn’t know what to do and they couldn’t even sometimes at the beginning feed themselves, because they didn’t know where the food was and we were feeding them, proudly so. Give me some of those resources and obviously nobody will be hungry. But then nobody will be lacking medicine because once you establish the distribution, then you can deliver everything. Everybody forgets that the most important thing in an emergency is establishing almost like a subway of distribution. Once this subway of distribution is established, once you have a map, maps are essential, once you have the map and you have the distribution system daily, nobody will need anything because you have a method to deliver everything people need.
[41:51] Andy Slavitt: You remind me that of things that we’ve talked about that you’ve done so far is really just a fraction, an important fraction, but just a fraction of some of the things that you’ve been doing. The fate of restaurants in the U.S., restaurant workers, restaurants opening safely. You know, a lot of people would like their restaurants to stay in business. A lot of people would like the people who work at those restaurants to continue to have jobs. A lot of people want to know if they can eat at these restaurants safely. So what do you have to say to them?
[42:26] José Andrés: This is the two things I’m proudest of this pandemic. What you see here is the first circles we did for the day I decided to transform my restaurants into committee kitchens. And my restaurants we changed by March 16, 17, we had these signs six feet away around the restaurants, 20, 30 of them maintaining distance. And in the walls, we will have everything that we want them to do. We’re talking March 15th. Remember the surgeon general at one point in the tweet saying you don’t need to wear a mask at this point. And this is the only thing with it. This is the first health protocol about how to behave in the kitchen, how to behave in the restaurant to deliver on takeout, how to deliver to home, and we deliver these around every single restaurant in America that was partnering with us. And every single restaurant in America. Right now, remember, we are in Britain, Ireland, Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, the United States and Spain. And this was March 15th. I’m very proud because it was very important for me to start setting the ground rules because I knew that we had to do it in a way — I didn’t want the government to shut me down. I want the mayor of D.C. shut me down or anywhere else. And remember, we put more than 2,000 restaurants up and working with us. Why? Because he if we had them, and you have to feed people, why not use them?
[44:16] José Andrés: And if you bring a pandemic and we are learning from Upton Sinclair. I’m learning from Upton Sinclair. Obviously, the USDA learned nothing from Upton Sinclair and The Jungle. I cannot believe that 100 years later, Upton Sinclair, nobody at USDA has read it and no owner of meat factory has read it. Take a look at what’s happening. It is insane to see that the learning of Upton Sinclair has not been applied to modern times. And take a look how many slaughterhouses they had to be shutting down. We’ve been very lucky, but I think it is more than luck. We’ve been emphasizing cleaning, washing, distance when possible, masks nonstop. And this makes a very big difference. So we had 2,000 restaurants because by having this model footprints and production. If there was a problem, you can shut down that place, send people to quarantine. But we haven’t had to do that so far. So we’ve done something right, Andy. And what we did right is that we were ahead of the curve. And I’m very proud of the way because people become World Central Kitchen. Everybody understood one thing: our mission was feeding people. And if we got sick, we failed. Option was not getting sick. The only option. And everybody took it very seriously from the beginning. And I’m very proud of that, quite frankly.
[45:45] Andy Slavitt: Well, it seems like you spend your life jumping from one problem to another problem. And I’ve heard you recently talk about making sure that people who are standing in line to vote on November 3rd can have fresh water, fresh food, hygiene, bathrooms. So do you just see a problem and say no one else is jumping on solving this, why don’t I just do it? Does it get exhausting for you? Because the problems never go away. How do you handle that?
[46:16] José Andrés: I mean, I’m one person. I get exhausted because I put everything I have inside everything I do. This pandemic has been hard for me. Did I have a tear or two or three more than once? Maybe I was not supposed to do it, but smoking a cigar outside while my daughters and my wife were sleeping. I’m looking at the stars and asking myself, man, what is going on? I never imagined I would have so many restaurants, but I have 16 restaurants, which I own, plus 14 other restaurants in partnerships with hotels. 1,600 members, they are part of my family and me and I had to take care of them. But more important, I am as important. I am my family. I am my daughters, my wife, my friends. And then I have the NGO and the people that need us, because if we don’t do it, nobody else is there, at least that’s my feeling. And we try to be there. And Danny is making sure that the Hill has the right bills. I’m very happy that we are able to pass in Congress a bipartisan bill, the FEED Act. I mean, I couldn’t be prouder to have in such a moment a bipartisan bill that precisely does what World Central Kitchen has been doing, putting restaurants to work by support of FEMA, by partnering locally with mayors who are at the front lines of this pandemic. And many of them are doing an amazing job. And making sure that food is not a problem. And they can take care of every other problem they have.
[48:07] José Andrés: Now, it’s in the Senate. We got also bipartisan support. Cannot be any better. And I know we have others, Republicans that want to join, and then this can become very good if goes for a vote on the floor on the Senate side. I’m very proud that the chef community created an Independent Restaurant Coalition to fight for a better PPP and now to fight for a new fund that will be only dedicated to restaurants. Let’s see where it goes. But I’ve been active on that. So at the end of the day, we only live once. We can be silent, we can enjoy life and nothing happens. I mean, to be a father, to be a mother, to be a citizen of our committee is hard enough. God only knows his hard enough to raise a family. And I don’t think I’ve been very good at it. I only had my wife next to me making me look good. But I do believe we complain too much about what is wrong in the world. We complain too much about what is wrong in our country. And I think in this new age, the new American way should be about to stop complaining and let’s start doing. And let’s try to bring as many people along. People are very distant from each other. People think that if they don’t think like you, they are your enemy. We need to start teaching our children that a person who doesn’t think like you is a person will enrich your life forever. And hopefully that person will be as open to listen to you, and hopefully listening to each other, all of the sudden we start creating a better world. Flags are being used as a weapons instead of pride. At the end of the day, my friend, I only hope that food is the reason to break bread and believe in longer tables and shorter walls. Or actually better: longer tables and no walls. People forget that if we believe that the walls are the way forward, you should take a look at the Spain. We have more castles than anybody. But more important is not much more beautiful. Instead of building walls of exclusion, will building walls of inclusion. Any country around America that does well, America will do better. If we have farmers coming in and working and making a good living wage and producing food so we can feed our children, our families. And then they go back to their countries and they made their countries and their communities stronger. And all of the sudden there is no walls but sharing, that will be so much easier, right?
[51:15] Andy Slavitt: Yes. Well, chef, I say this with my son Zachary here, who is 18. Let’s say this to Zachary. You know, if you were to pick a role model in life, that man is probably the closest thing I could point to for somebody that I think you should live your life after. His values, his willingness to put them into action is something that as you go through, you know, the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years of life, you can have so many choices, so many possibilities, so many mistakes you’ll make, so many places you go. Right. But you don’t know what to think about who are the people guiding your decisions that are the people who you look up to. And I think this is the person if I had to pick one person for you that I hope, you know, pick your own path, but this is a guiding light.
[52:12] José Andrés: I’m grumpy. But I have my daughters. They always tell me daddy, don’t be grumpy.
[52:20] Andy Slavitt: Well, I hope you’ll take care of yourself.
[52:21] José Andrés: I am. I am. I need to lose weight. I’m trying to do this right now. I need to lose easily 25, 30 pounds. I’m gonna do it. I’m in that moment now. Concentrating on doing that. I need to get ready for the hurricane season. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen, though I think this is going to be a big one. I hope I’m wrong. And we need to be ready. I need to open my restaurant. They are already up and running. We are probably under capacity even from what we are allow. I was one of the first ones to close, I am going to slowly opening. Obviously you have to try because a lot of people depend on that. But I’m still scared of what I see is going on in USA. The curve in America versus the curve in Europe. Europe is much better. Even in different countries, Europe has shown that has work much more like a cohesive group than USA that is at one country, many states under one flag. And I hope that things don’t go worse. But right now we need to be learning from — Europe did a lot of bad things. But what I see right now is that they are controlling this virus much better than the way we’re controlling it in USA right now.
[53:41] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, well, we’re certainly not going to give up. So I think I may have sent you a note about this, I can’t recall, but Zach and I, for this podcast, we decided we would be donating any of the money from the podcast to people who are helping to recover from the pandemic. We have some sponsors on the podcast, and then people join our podcast. So for the first month, we asked people listening who should we donate to? And everybody said World Central Kitchen. And so we wrote our first check from this podcast to World Central Kitchen. And I just think there is still no more worthy place. Thank you for everything you do for being a wonderful guy personally and for what you contribute. I just want to take issue with one thing you said when you said we only live once. I think you have proved that maybe you can live three or four lifetimes if you have the kind of values, focus, ambition that you do. So thank you for setting that example for Zach and for me.
[54:45] José Andrés: Thank you. Thank you for having me. And thank you for supporting the men and women of World Central Kitchen. They are really amazing.
[55:00] Andy Slavitt: Thank you to Chef José Andrés. And again, if you want to hear even more of that conversation where it gets even a bit looser, where the chef is sitting outside in Spain and we’re just enjoying some time together, chatting, that will be up on Patreon. So, a couple things. First of all, enjoy your Fourth of July holiday weekend. That is a time for you to relax and be outdoors. We have a great couple of episodes coming up next week, I want to tell you about them. And I want you to tell your friends about them, so we can get more listeners, which is very good for Zach’s ego. The first is Adam Schefter, who is going to be talking to us about sports. What is going to happen with sports? Is there going to be sports leagues at the professional or NCAA or other level this coming year? And there is nobody who is positioned to know more than Adam, who is the lead ESPN correspondent. And then Wednesday, we go back into the political realm with a conversation with Joe Kennedy. Joe is a congressperson from Massachusetts and he is a good friend, fascinating person, big future. And part of the Kennedy clan. I think you’ll like that as well. So I have a great holiday.
[56:32] Thanks for listening In the Bubble. Hope you rate us highly. We are a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease is our producer. Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs executive produce the show and run our lives. My son Zach Slavitt is my cool co-host and onsite producer. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at a @ASlavitt on Twitter or @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, please, please, please tell your friends to come listen, but from a distance. And for now, stay safe. Share some joy. And we will get through this together. And #StayHome.