A new recipe to feed a hungry world

EEarlier this year, after earthquakes devastated much of eastern Turkey (Turkey), I met a leader from the city of Gaziantep named Ramazan. After more than half a century working in restaurants, Ramazan wasted no time putting his skills to work cooking hot soup on the streets just hours after the disaster. When World Central Kitchen, the food relief nonprofit I founded in 2010, established temporary headquarters nearby, Ramazan was there with a brigade of chefs preparing tens of thousands of meals every day for earthquake survivors.

Cooperation, trust, respect and love have transformed this kitchen into a community united by constant and consistent collaboration.

To me, community is a feeling, an energy that comes from being surrounded by people who care about each other, who know they will share and shape a future together. But it is also an act, a way of being, of coexisting with those around us.

As world leaders gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly to build consensus and seek solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems: climate change, war, migration and starvation. Speeches are given, hearings are held, declarations and commitments are made, year after year. We often refer to the actions taken by the “international community” to address these grave crises, but from the skyscrapers of New York, the people affected by these crises are too often anonymous and faceless, mere data points on a graph.

Learn more: “Without empathy, nothing works. » Chef José Andrés wants to feed the world during the pandemic

There can be no “us” and “them” – no more conferences isolated from the realities of the climate crisis or panels on food security without those who are hungry. A TRUE The international community can only exist when we take the time to listen to each other, give voice to those who have been left speechless, and roll up our sleeves to work side by side.

The bowls of hot soup that I saw in Ramazan disappearing on the streets of Gaziantep stand in stark contrast to the ready-to-eat meals dropped from planes that symbolize the expensive, impersonal and slow approach of traditional humanitarian aid. If we’re here to tell people what they need, we’ve already failed. If we are there to listen, we can succeed.

The most effective organizations – and leaders – are those who are on the ground, seeking to listen as much as to help, without coming to declare what is best. Think of Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, who built thousands of homes with their own hands and redefined the American post-presidency; or Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose constant presence on the front line rallied the world to the cause of the freedom and democracy of the Ukrainian people.

And there are diplomats like Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who, like me, believes in the power of food to lengthen tables. A native of Louisiana, she became famous for her embrace of “gumbo diplomacy,” the idea that the most effective way to reach consensus is literally through the breaking of bread. She should know that the word “community” comes from the same word as “commensality”: eating together. No wonder she focused the U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council last month on a historic, unanimous resolution against the use of food as a weapon of war.

Wherever World Central Kitchen responds, we start by listening and develop our response based on what we hear. We will set up in a central location, as we did in Gaziantep, to distribute meals to people who need them. Then next to us, a group will start distributing water. And next to them, there are clothes, toys for children, fuel and materials for reconstruction. Food creates a rallying point for relief and hope, a space to exchange vital information and begin the emotional process of rebuilding life. Food becomes community.

The reasons for this approach are as pragmatic as they are idealistic. We activate local restaurants not only because it’s faster than waiting to arrive ourselves, but also because the valuable information from their chefs helps us reach the most vulnerable in a community. We offer familiar dishes at each location, not only for the intangible comfort they provide, but also because the ingredients are readily available and it’s what our volunteers know how to cook. We serve outside of schools and churches because they are centrally located and inherently considered safe spaces.

Learn more: The food world needs to listen to real cultural experts, not just use their ingredients

I have seen first-hand the power of food to rebuild lives and revive economies. Every hot meal we serve represents a moment where people come together to help each other with a little more than the ingredients they had and the empathy in their hearts. Each is a small part of the story of how we transform a kitchen into a place of healing, where everyone is invited to be part of the solution. If this model of local empowerment helps combat hunger in emergencies, I believe humanitarian agencies and international development organizations can use it to overcome the challenges that currently prevent them from providing more effective aid. and efficient.

At the UNGA, instead of empty rhetoric, I call for meaningful action, for collaboration of the kind that truly nourishes the bodies and minds of those we cannot afford to continue to fail. The doors of our World Central Kitchen are open to all. I hope the international community will join us in writing new recipes to feed a hungry world.

José Andrés is a humanitarian chef and the founder of World Central Kitchen, whose new cookbook Feeding humanity, feeding hope is available now.

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