José Andrés Just Gave A Grim Warning About Ukraine's Food Crisis

Food is not only essential for survival, but also a symbol of resilience and liberation. Such is the philosophy of Spanish-born chef José Andrés, founder of the not-for-profit organization, World Central Kitchen (WCK). The organization has been serving communities in crisis worldwide since it was founded in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti, reports Reuters. Since then, WCK has been on the ground and serving food to people in need after the explosion in Beirut, the wildfires in Australia, and at the U.S./Mexico border. WCK is known for its focus on connecting with the people that it serves. The organization puts its efforts into learning about local cuisines to meet the location and culture-specific needs. It also partners with local food suppliers to help kick start local economies after disasters (via WCK).

In February after Russia invaded Ukraine, WCK stepped into its first war zone. Since then, the organization has set up over 7,000 food distribution sites in Ukraine and served over 130 million meals, according to Reuters. A May 2022 report by the World Food Programme found that 42% of Ukrainians surveyed reported worrying about food and not having enough to eat.

The need for food and other resources will only continue to grow, Andrés recently warned (via Reuters). As fighting shifts and increases, more people could be displaced. Concerns point toward the eastern Donbas region, where up to 350,000 people may need to relocate to avoid increased violence. These may signal more significant issues to come.

Ukrainian food insecurity could intensify this winter

Ukraine's leadership and World Central Kitchen have recently predicted a devastating winter ahead for Ukraine's food and resources, reports Reuters. One such reason for these concerns is that monetary donations to aid efforts are beginning to wain as the crisis persists. The timing of this slowdown, paired with the harsh winter weather, could spell disaster for the Ukrainian people. Andrés explained to Reuters, "The cash is sooner or later going to start finishing, that's why I'm calling on ... all the countries that want to support Ukraine ... that we need to become one."

Currently, Andrés calls for coordination and cooperation between governments and agencies providing aid to Ukraine. He went on to tell Reuters, "If everybody is doing their own thing, we may be doubling efforts, wasting money, not helping Ukraine, especially as winter is coming." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine is coordinating with WCK to increase the group's presence in recently liberated areas.

Other organizations' efforts to stop food instability include a partnership between a local Ukrainian organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The partnership is providing seeds to Ukrainians in order to produce food that are staples in many Ukrainian kitchens in backyard gardens, states NPR. Currently, one out of three Ukrainians experiences food insecurity and the seed planting project hopes to ease the strain. 

The dangers of fighting hunger in a war zone are worth it, says Andrés

In addition to the threat of severe weather, providing aid to Ukraine hasn't always been safe. In April 2022, a missile hit a WCK food distribution site in Kharkiv, wounding four staff members, writes NPR. Afterward, Andrés praised the quick response of WCK's team. "What happened in the hours after was unbelievable," he told CBS. He noted that all of the team members stated that they wanted to continue working. Very soon after the attack, the food distribution site reopened nearby. The Michelin-starred chef told NPR that he finds hope in moments like these. "You see, the goodness always shines through, and we're going to keep cooking and feeding as many people as we can."

Andrés says that ultimately, despite the darkness and despair that comes with this kind of work, he finds it uplifting, "[B]ecause I always say that the best of humanity usually shows up in the worst moments of humanity. And what I get, the inspiration I get from every one of the World Central Kitchen members, but [also] the new people that join us in the middle of the chaos, this to me is a gift I will never be able to pay back" (per CBS). President Zelenskyy recently praised WCK's work during a televised address, reports Reuters. Both Andrés and Zelenskyy have expressed their hopes that the international community continues to collaborate and provide aid to Ukraine.