Why José Andrés Traces His Activist Roots to John Steinbeck
On Spike Mendelsohn and Food Policy Action's new podcast "Plate of the Union," Andrés spoke out about the importance of diversifying food sources and prompt disaster relief.
We're not sure how he finds the time, but José Andrés is continuing to speak out on the most pressing food issues of the century, all while running a restaurant empire and spearheading relief operations around the world.
The chef-humanitarian-author appeared on chef Spike Mendelsohn's new podcast, "State of the Union," which debuted on Thursday morning, to talk food and policy. Andrés touched on many of his usual talking points—the importance of swift crisis responses and diversifying food sources—while also speculating on the reason he got into service in the first place.
"I have to blame my involvement [on] John Steinbeck," Andrés said. "If you go to the last chapters of The Grapes of Wrath, the main character towards the end [says], 'Whenever there is a fight, so hungry people may eat, I will be there.'"
The chef said he read the book while serving in the Spanish navy, and the spirit behind it moved him to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. "Those words, that phrase, sticks to me ... Why did I go? I had that call. I wish I could go everywhere all the time. I pick and choose when I feel is the right moment. I feel we could be helpful, and now we have the experience."
Of course, Andrés has been supporting disaster-stricken communities for years, making meals in the aftermath of earthquakes and floods long before Hurricane Maria hit. But with the crisis in Puerto Rico, Andrés expected to swoop in and out; feeding some people and then leaving the island. But the devastation was far worse than he could have imagined; he had to stay, growing his pack of 20 chefs and volunteers to over 2,000 and ultimately serving millions of meals.
"When things go as planned, relief is easy," Andrés said. "But when something is beyond what anyone has imagined, everybody seems to look to the other side. We don’t look to the other side. When the problem is so big no one knows how to fix it ... that’s when we become excellent at performing. We showed up in Puerto Rico and never left."
The episode also featured Politico reporter Anna Palmer, who spoke about how food policy has shifted over the years.
“Through Plate of the Union, we’re exploring hunger, nutrition, food deserts, humanitarian food aid, urban farming, you name it," said Mendelsohn in a statement announcing his podcast. "We’ll answer questions like, 'Why does a tomato cost more than a package of cookies at a gas station? How come we still have food and agriculture laws from the 1930’? And lastly, who are the political power-players affecting these critical issues?' We will cover all of the fun, serious, and crazy things you never knew you needed to know about food and our food system."