We Fed An Island
The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at A TimeeBook - 2018
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Following the devastation hurricane Maria brought to Puerto Rico in 2017, Chef Jose Andres knew that people needed to be fed if they were going to survive and begin to rebuild. Through his non-profit, World Central Kitchen, Andres had some experience helping following natural disasters and by developing a partnership with local chefs in Puerto Rico he was able to coordinate a massive relief effort in the days following Maria including more than 1.5 million fresh meals for Puerto Ricans.
Disaster response involves determining and coordinating priorities for relief efforts - things like restoring electricity, communication, transportation, or providing shelter. Andres would argue that feeding people needs to be one of the top priorities as well. His relief work in Puerto Rico is a powerful testament to what can be achieved when you tap into local networks and talents: through his efforts he was able to provide more meals than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Red Cross. His success at feeding people stands in stark contrast to his observations regarding the failures of political leadership and inefficiencies of NGOs which fostered a culture of inaction. Andres’ account of these failures includes biting criticism of the bureaucracy and profit that surrounds disaster relief. In one instance someone tried to partner with Andres to broker a deal with the NGOs so that Andres could get paid for the food he was making. The partner would receive a cut from the contract; Andres eventually capped that cut at $250,000. In another instance, FEMA offered Andres contracts in which they were overpaying and he would be under-delivering because he could feed people cheaper than what they wanted to pay and he could feed more people than the contract would allow. His advocacy for Puerto Rico during this crisis was not without controversy as he engaged in both a Twitter battle with the President and a press war with FEMA at different points. The exciting and powerful aspect of his story though is how he succeeded at feeding 10,000s of people daily by focusing on local partners and sources, working with local chefs and volunteers, and mobilizing people to feed themselves and their neighbours; illustrating the impact of his belief that if you feed the people real food then you mobilize people to help themselves and those around them.
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