Chef José Andrés: We must work together – International food activist spoke at Economic Forum 

 

Chef José Andrés, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based World Central Kitchen, told Milwaukee in June that the pandemic has shown us we must push past our differences and work together.  

“You may be a Republican or you may be a Democrat. You may be Jewish or you may be Muslim. At the end, we are all people,” he said.  

Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s virtual Economic Forum was held June 15, with more than 300 screens tuned in to the event, plus hundreds more who watched the replay. In prior years, the forum was held at the Pfister Hotel, which is currently open, and it will return there in the fall, according to Greg Marcus, CEO and President of The Marcus Corporation.  

“The Milwaukee Jewish Federation develops and distributes more than $20 million annually to organizations that help build community in Milwaukee and beyond. Tackling food insecurity has always been an important part of our work,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the Federation. “The pandemic dramatically increased the need for food … and we were here to help.” 

Sponsors of the event included PNC, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services, Irgens and The Rock Creek Group, among others. The event co-chairs were Linda Gorens-Levey, Greg Marcus and David Lubar. To watch a replay of the Forum, go to MilwaukeeJewish.org/Economic Forum. 

Andrés founded World Central Kitchen in 2010 after a ruinous earthquake in Haiti. The nonprofit connects chefs and food workers with volunteer opportunities after natural disasters, among other initiatives. World Central Kitchen and its partners have served millions of meals. 

“We all think we are different tribes, different people, different colors of the skin, different religions, different countries and countries within the countries,” Andrés said. “We are all realizing that we are all together on this planet, that this should not be about higher walls but about longer tables and that (with) a pandemic like COVID-19, that we can only get out of this mayhem by working together, by being next to each other.” 

Caitlin Cullen, chef and owner of Tandem restaurant, 1848 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., talked at the virtual event about how her friend sent an email to a nameless “info” inbox at World Central Kitchen. It was a request for information. Within 24 hours Cullen was on a call with leadership from the organization, she said.  

“It happened so fast that that’s how I knew that I loved him forever,” she said of Andrés. “We went from feeding four or five hundred people a day to 1,000, 1,200, 1,400 …” 

Cullen said her partnership with World Central Kitchen has led to more than 50 Milwaukee-area restaurants seeing payments from the nonprofit through the Tandem, “to make massive amounts of food.” She indicated this has been helpful to those in need and to local restaurants in need of business during the pandemic.  

World Central Kitchen partners with the restaurant community around the world in this way, with a decentralized approach that depends on local people, Andrés said. 

The organization also addresses food issues worldwide in other ways, including strengthening local food production and promoting clean cooking to save lives. Andrés is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.  

There was a panel discussion, moderated by Milwaukee Business Journal Market President and Publisher Kira Lafond. 

Panelist Joanne Sabir, co-founder of The Sherman Phoenix, a shared retail and community space at 3536 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., said she appreciates that Cullen and Andres are willing to work for the benefit of communities that may not be their own. Panelist Omar Shaikh, developer of 3rd Street Market Hall and known for his restaurant Carnevor, insisted that political solutions to problems are needed.  

Andrés said food deserts are an issue that have been well discussed at conferences but need to be actually addressed. “Can you believe that poor people cannot even spend … in their own communities because they do not have anywhere to spend it?” Andrés asked.  

“The people who feed America and feed the world, they must be able to feed themselves and their families,” he said. “This has to end. You have mothers working two jobs and they barely made it at the end of the week. 

“Food is love …. Food in essence can be what builds a better tomorrow.”