Chef José Andrés Speaks … We Better Listen!

I have written before about Chef José Andrés and his organization, World Central Kitchen, the not-for-profit non-governmental organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.  They travel all over the world, feeding those displaced by natural disasters, war, or famine, and since February 2022 they have been a huge presence in and around Ukraine as they help feed the hungry there.

More recently, though, Chef Andrés has partnered with George Washington University to found the Global Food Institute, the goal of which is to deliver solutions to the biggest challenges facing the world’s food system.  Chef Andrés wrote the following OpEd for The Washington Post on Monday evening and I hope everyone will read it, think about it, for what he says is true:  hunger is a global crisis that is already a world-wide threat and will only grow worse over time.

Why global hunger is a national security threat

José Andrés

22 May 2023

Threats to U.S. national security are not just measured in missiles, armies and terrorists. Political and economic turmoil, in countries that are important to America and its allies, can also be overwhelming.

That’s why fighting hunger and thirst is no longer just a challenge for aid workers. The scale of the global crisis is so great that hunger now represents a threat to our security, our borders and our projection of power.

Don’t take a chef’s word for it. Over the past decade or so, the U.S. intelligence community assessed the likely impact of global food and water insecurity.

U.S. security agencies predicted a world, right around now, when water shortages and floods would “risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives.”

They forecast that in countries of strategic importance to us, “declining food security will almost certainly contribute to social disruptions and political instability.”

I have argued for a national security adviser for food and a secretary of food. I have proposed the creation of a National Food Agency to center food policy on the needs of American citizens.

But I have not succeeded in convincing my friends on either side of the aisle on Capitol Hill or at the White House that food must stop being a policy afterthought [emphasis added].

The time has come for us all to prioritize food in our public policy — at home and internationally.

Consider one of the most divisive factors in politics today, both in the United States and in Europe: immigration from the Global South.

What is driving so many families to risk their lives on perilous journeys through the jungle, across rivers or on the open seas?

Violence, corruption and lack of opportunity are nothing new in the Western Hemisphere. Though they are clearly factors in the surge to the U.S. southern border, there is something new about what is moving so many people today.

That is food. To be precise: malnutrition, hunger and food price inflation.

Three years ago, the majority of migrants came from the Northern Triangle countries: Honduras, Guatemala and El Savador. Now, most migrants at our border come from other countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua and Cuba.

What ties these countries together?

Cuba is suffering extraordinary food shortages and price hikes. About three-quarters of Venezuelans live on less than $1.90 a day, which, economists say, is nowhere near enough to feed one person, never mind a family. In some regions of Nicaragua, almost 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 has chronic malnutrition.

I could tell you the same stories about the Northern Triangle countries a few years ago. Or I could tell you about the Honduran family we fed as they sheltered under a bridge in McAllen, Tex. They recognized the logo of World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit I founded, because we had fed them in Honduras the year before, when back-to-back hurricanes wiped out their farm.

As severe drought devastates crops across South America, the World Food Program recently warned that “the whole continent is on the move.”

We cannot build a wall high enough to stop the army of mothers with hungry children in their arms.

Our problem is not that we lack the resources or knowhow to relieve these unbearable pressures. Our problem is that we lack focus.

The United States spends around $25 billion a year on Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Texas alone wants to spend $4 billion on the border.

That’s what the United States spends on feeding the whole planet through the World Food Program in a normal year. It’s four times what the administration proposes to spend on stabilizing the democracies and economies of Central America to help stop migration.

Food is not just an existential challenge beyond our borders. In the United States, about half of the adult population either has diabetes or is prediabetic. Two in five adults are obese. Last year, supplies of baby formula collapsed because of contamination at one factory, and the shortages endure.

The Government Accountability Office recently found that the federal government leads 200 different efforts across 21 different agencies to improve our diets. Yet we still cannot match our farming subsidies to our nutritional needs.

Everybody and nobody is in charge of food.

Food can be the solution to multiple crises: from our health to our climate, from immigration to global security. But only if we think differently and prioritize our food.

Our global food systems are broken, and we urgently need structural change. That starts right here in Washington.