José Andrés Is Still Hoping for a 'Food Czar'
In the early days of the pandemic, acclaimed chef and World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, urging government leaders to focus their efforts on averting a food crisis that was already developing, even then. He wrote about the increasingly long lines that were already forming at food banks, about the disproportionately small amount of financial aid that was being used to feed the hungry, and about the "patchwork" attempt to keep the supply chain intact.
One of his proposed solutions was for the president to appoint a Food Czar to join the National Security Council, so that these concerns could be addressed, both now and in the future. "Just as we reimagined our national defenses after 9/11, we need to reimagine our health defense to include food," he wrote. "We realize that we’d never taken the terrorist threats seriously enough until after the attacks. Ignoring the serious threat posed by food insecurity repeats those mistakes."
Almost eight months later, Andrés is still pushing for an officially recognized food czar (or "secretary of food") and he hopes that president-elect Joe Biden will appoint one. "We need to understand one thing: that food is more than the USDA," he told Yahoo News this week. "Food is more than just all of the mechanics of a smart agricultural system. Food is immigration. Food is health. Food is national security. Food is job creation. Food is economic growth.”
Andrés seems to be satisfied with Tom Vilsack, Biden's nominee for Secretary of Agriculture ("the right secretary for the moment") but emphasized that he will need advisors who are qualified to help develop future food policies, and to update—or upgrade—the ones that are currently in place. "We need to make sure that we have somebody near the president that sees food as what it is: a very important issue that sometimes falls between the cracks,” he said.
Andrés declined to drop the names of the potential food czar, nor did he nominate himself—or even say whether he'd accept that position if it were both established and offered to him.
Honestly, there might not be a more qualified czar. His World Central Kitchen was founded in 2010 after a devastating earthquake in Haiti killed as many as 85,000 people and left survivors without access to food or water. He continued to travel throughout the world, responding to assorted disasters, but it came to widespread notice after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in 2017. According to The Guardian, World Central Kitchen prepared and distributed more than 3.6 million meals throughout the territory in the 10 months that followed.
But perhaps no one knows what it takes to mobilize this kind of support in the wake of a crisis more than Andrés, and he also understands that the work isn't finished after the mobile kitchens are closed and everyone has received a hot meal.
Whether or not Andrés is lowkey campaigning for this role, President-elect Biden would be hard-pressed to find a better candidate.