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Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews José Andrés

The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews chef José Andrés.

Read excerpts from the interview below:

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Clemons: Tell us first about the FEED Act.

Andrés: Well I'm very excited about this FEED Act because I don't see myself on the business of influencing Congress with the right ideas that they may endorse. I only see myself as one guy, one boy with boots on the ground, making things happen. So we see that what we're doing at World Central Kitchen, where we have more than 1,000 restaurants in our network, thousand restaurants, that the money we get donated by so many supporters, World Central Kitchen, in an emergency usually, we open our own kitchens in hurricanes, when everything is destroyed and we feed people immediately. Here there is not destruction. The electricity is OK. The buildings are OK. The issue is that we have the entire system shut down. We have restaurants, we have amazing chefs, restaurant owners. They love to feed people. they love to feed people in the good times and especially in the hard times, so we are partnering with them to feed people in need one community at a time. What this act is? Precisely to support this simple idea, Gov. [Gavin] Newsom already partnered with FEMA to feed elderly people in the state of California. This is a re-enactment of the Stafford Act which precisely will empower states, in partnership with FEMA, to make sure that with NGOs, with restaurants, we can use put the restaurants to work and take care of the local problems in a very simple movement. We take care of the hunger problem at the same time we put America to work. All of the sudden the small farmers can keep selling to the restaurants. All of the sudden the co-ops, the restaurants can go back to work and be part of the response to this humanitarian crisis. Before we know it, we go back to normal but in the process we are already putting America to work.

 

Clemons: How have you made Republicans and Democrats to come together?

Andrés: I don't think I made it happen. I think quite frankly we have great American senators and congressmen. I don't see so much if they're Republican or they are Democrats. I just see great men and women that they want to serve their people, their states with smart ideas. So quite frankly, I always say that the best moment is when you can break bread. And I think in this moment food should be bipartisan and is bipartisan. I see many people in both sides of the aisle supporting this simple idea: Let's make sure through this humanitarian crisis food is not gonna be an issue. Let's take care of the health crisis, let's take care of the economic crisis. But let's make sure that we don't have a humanitarian crisis, make sure that we will not have civil unrest. How do we do that? With smart ideas. And it takes a 360 approach. This simple idea of putting restaurants to work to take care of local issues is one cornerstone of everything we have to be doing. It's not they should be released in more ways. They should be able to be used in restaurants for hot food. They should be able to buy produce online. They should be able to be used in supermarkets to buy fruits and vegetables. They should be used in farmers markets. We should make sure that when the federal government wants to try to help the people the money doesn't go directly into, what I would say, subsidies that sometimes is taking care of the problem. We should be making sure that we invest into the solution. We don't want subsidies to pay the farmer for food that is being wasted. We want investing into the system so farmers can sell to the federal government and in the process channel that food to food banks, to churches, to restaurants, to NGOs, to school systems. That’s what I've been trying to do. And believe me I do believe that this is the moment where we can bring Republicans and Democrats with their smart ideas together. America needs them to be working together and food can be what brings all of them together.

 

Clemons: Do you think there is a danger out there that the small farmers are going to be wiped out?

Andrés: I think we need to realize that any small business in America is in danger. Obviously the one I know a little bit and I cared the most are the food people of America. And the food people are more than just the cooks, and the waiters, and the sommelier in the restaurant. Restaurants very much we are the end of an amazing, magical system that starts with our farmers, our fishermen, our cow and lamb producers, our egg producers those men and women that work the land that provide to us the goodness of the earth and many of them they are small businesses. People forget that the vast majority of people that work and own businesses are the small business of America. Together we're a very powerful army. We empower and give work to so many people together. So yes, we need to be taking care of them. They don't want our pity, they want our respect. The way that Congress, the way the White House should be showing respect to those men and women is precisely putting good ideas, but supported by the federal government, to make sure that those small farmers don't go under the water. And how you do this is? Making sure that we recognize that food is a national security issue, making sure that our farmers keep being productive. And if they don't have restaurants to sell to right now, let's find new ways to make sure that that food is not wasted from the field but gets to the places that people need that food. And already the system, we don't need to reinvent them. They've been created. We know how food goes from the farm all the way to the restaurant, and to the houses of people. Let's only keep investing to make sure that the distribution systems don't stop and we make sure that every American in need will have a plate of food. In the process of solving the problem you solve every other problem because this is a 360-degree problem with a 360-degree solution.

 

Clemons: Didn't you feed the people on the Diamond Princess ship that was the first major ship with coronavirus-infected passengers and crew? They were screaming for help. No one would go on and your people went on and fed those people on that ship.

Andrés: We did 18,000 meals a day for over a month. We partnered with great people, chef Nobu Matsuhisa gave us help, many people, the Princess cruise ship, obviously, we went there to help. Why us? Because we had the experience with cholera before — Haiti, Mozambique. But the men and woman from World Central Kitchen did a very good job. I was so proud of them. Then, Oakland where I joined my team. We did the same for Gov. Newsom. That ship was handled much better than the one in Japan I can tell you that. So we've been already thinking about these from a long time that's why World Central Kitchen was able to deliver N95 masks and face shields to many hospitals around Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., because we bought them to prepare our teams for what we saw in a real crisis in the making. We didn't realize that we were having to stock to be providing hospitals with N95. ... So if you ask me as a father, if you ask me as a husband, as a friend, as a leader that has to keep my employees healthy. It’s very simple. When I closed my restaurant I was able to be taking care of everybody full salary, full benefits for over five, six weeks because my main role is, I don't know what's coming and we need to adapt. So the best way to be a leader is to stay home, stay home because I don't want you sick. And so I will say that I want to open my business. I cannot wait to go back to cooking in my restaurant. I can't wait to have my streets and my restaurant full of people. But the reality is that we have this virus that if we don't handle this health crisis, our nurses, our doctors will die in a number that is not necessary. They didn't join the medical services to die. They joined the medical services to take care of people and that's the reality. So we need to be somehow conservative in the approach to reopening but making sure that everybody's healthy and that we have the systems in place. So number one thing, why we don't have contract tracing already in place? We have all the information we want in this iPhone. Should not be a reason that every person in America should have already and not by now that we can do contact tracing immediately. In this day and age, just to think, like nobody has come up with a system where you know if you are sick and then you know very quickly who has been next to you and we can be informing. And we can stop this virus in a few weeks, not in a few months, in a few weeks, to me makes me very upset. Because if we did contact tracing, plus the quarantine we've been going through, there is no reason why we cannot get ahead of this virus. Unfortunately, we've been behind of this virus. And sometimes, I'm not going to lie to you, we have smart people, but sometimes the smart people is not enough we need people of action and I feel our leaders in general have not been people of action. With the necessities we needed right now. The emergency of now is yesterday. And in that sense I do believe we fail.

 
Clemons: As you step back, who are the heroes you see out there that we ought to be paying attention to? Who are the villains that deserve to be known as villains?

Andrés: I don't think for me, it’s the time now to talk about villains. But yes, I think of the heroes. But I would say that I'm very sad in certain ways because we saw what happened in 1918-1919 and you don't need to be an MBA expert, you don't need to have a doctorate in public health, you just read what happened in '18 and '19 over a century ago. Where are the lessons learned? Bill Gates was telling us over five years ago that the pandemic will be coming. President Obama was telling us five years and six months ago about the pandemic coming probably in five years. Everybody's been talking about this. We know what happened over a century ago. Read "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair. We know what happened in our slaughterhouses. If you think about it everything that is unfolding now, because everything is exponential, because when you have a little problem everything else becomes bigger, has been things that humanity has gone through it before in the past. So I will say that everybody is being a bad person, a bad leader in this sense, because what did we learn from the past? And why do we go to university, and why we know about history. We know, not to claim, and brag, that we’re smart, we should know history so we can learn from the past and make actions and smart decisions today. So with this I'm going to say that the heroes are many, obviously. My mom was a nurse. My dad was a nurse. They passed away two years ago. I have some family members that right now they are nurses working in the front lines. All those nurses and doctors around the world without a doubt they are our heroes. But we have to remember the woman working in the supermarket, cashier, taking care of families, taking their orders and their payments. That woman right now that sometimes we didn't even care to look at her in the eyes, she's a hero. The guy at UPS and the post office he/she is the hero. Those farmers, right now many of them undocumented, working on the farms of America without protection bringing food to every supermarket so you and I we can be providing food to our children, those are the heroes. Those Dreamers that right now they may be by a Supreme Court order put away from our country, but they show up every day to a hospital to take care of people, Americans, that are right now sick. Those are heroes. Right now we are learning that those men and women, that sometimes they are voiceless; those men and women that sometimes think they don't seem to count in our society; those men and women we are learning that actually they are essential people, the essential workers that keep America running and for that empathy hopefully towards those men and women is what is gonna be showing us the way. Everybody matters. We need everybody and a solution for the few must be the solution for the many. We cannot reopen America without making sure that everybody is taken care of, not only the ones that can stay behind in a big home, but everybody will be safe and everybody can enjoy this beautiful country of ours.