The Chef Who Fed Thousands During the Government Shutdown
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Politics and Activism

Thank You José Andrés For Feeding Thousands During The Government Shutdown

When thousands of federal workers were left without pay for over a month, José Andrés was there to help in his adopted hometown.

Thank You José Andrés For Feeding Thousands During The Government Shutdown

Mention the term "DC hero" and people will think of the likes of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. However, there is another kind of DC hero - from the District of Columbia, not DC Comics. One of those DC heroes would be celebrity chef José Andrés.

In the midst of the woes of the US federal government's 35-day-long partial government shutdown (the longest in American history), Andrés and World Central Kitchen— a not-for-profit NGO that he founded to help with feeding disaster victims— stepped up to the task of doing what they could to make sure the 800,000 furloughed or unpaid federal workers did not go hungry due to receiving multiple blank paychecks.

Andrés, who came to the United States from Spain as a young man and was naturalized as a citizen in 2013, used to be better known for his cooking shows and the many famous restaurants he owns around DC (where he lives) and across the country.

George Washington University students might know him for owning the vegetable-themed Beefsteak restaurant at the intersection of 22nd and Eye Street in Foggy Bottom, or for his 2014 commencement speech during graduation. However, ever since founding World Central Kitchen following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Andrés has gained a reputation for leadership in disaster relief efforts.

Under Andrés's leadership, World Central Kitchen has helped make and distribute meals in need-stricken areas across the world, particularly in the Caribbean and several African countries. The organization was widely praised for its major presence in disaster relief operations in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria (where the organization served over three million meals) and in California after devastating wildfires wracked large portions of the state in 2018.

Then came shutdown last December. Andrés immediately jumped into action, declaring that affected federal employees could get free meals at his DC restaurants. As the shutdown grew in length, World Central Kitchen swung into action by setting up pop-up kitchens giving out sandwiches and other food along with supplies like diapers for free in 17 states, Puerto Rico, and DC. The District alone had 11 kitchens pop up.

Soon, lines began to wrap around the block at many of the pop-up kitchens; on one day, organizers estimated that they had served over 11,000 meals in one day. Videos showed federal workers at the Pennsylvania Avenue kitchen who were grateful for being given free, good food at a time when many of them were facing financial burdens from their need to pay rents and mortgages (among many other costs) while going without pay. The situation may not have been as pressing as in natural disaster areas, but Andrés and his associates provided a great source of relief for many.

Even after the shutdown ended officially ended on January 25th, Andrés said World Central Kitchen would not stop providing meals until the federal workers affected by the shutdown received back pay.

To be clear, Andrés was far from the only person (or restauranteur) to offer help in DC during the government shutdown. Many businesses around the District such as &pizza provided free or discounted meals to federal employees affected by the shutdown. Andrés's own operation was powered by many volunteers, cooks, and donors that made food distribution popular in the first place. Of course, there were also countless unsung heroes that did not even make news headlines.

Still, it's important to have leading figures whose example we can follow. Andrés has set a precedent for how chefs can assist hurting communities in times of great hardship by keeping those communities fed with proper meals. He did that in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. He did that in California when the wildfires left so many people without homes. And, while the government shutdown was not a natural disaster, Andrés was still there in his adopted home in DC to do what he could to keep workers fed.

Andrés's actions during the shutdown underscore that society needs steady leaders who can give their all in times of crisis. He found that he could greatly ease the burden on crisis victims through cooking and devoted himself to that mission. He does his best not to sit by idly when disaster strikes. We could use more people with that attitude in leadership positions in Washington right now.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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