Spanish chef José Andrés reveals why he’s passionate about advocating against food insecurity in America. (Photo/Courtesy Jason Varney)

Chef José Andrés talks nutrition, hunger in America: “We have a responsibility”

Foodies worldwide know chef José Andrés for his innovative, fresh take on Spanish cuisine and small plates.  With nearly a dozen restaurants in American cities from coast to coast, the James Beard Foundation Award winner appeals to those who respect tradition and appreciate fine ingredients.

But as a high-profile chef, Andrés says that he feels responsibility towards those who at times can’t afford to put dinner on the table, much less a meal at one of his fine dining restaurants.

Towards that end, the father of three daughters founded the non-profit World Central Kitchen in 2010 as a way to bring attention to the national issue of food insecurity and educate others about malnutrition. Passionate about ending hunger nationwide – after all, 1 in 4 children nationwide go to bed hungry every night – Andrés took the time to share his thoughts on the fight against child hunger, food aid and nutrition with NBC Latino.

Read on to learn how Andrés – who teamed up with volunteer organization Points of Light in November to teach students in Florida’s Miami-Dade county how to garden and prepare nutritious food – wants people at home to feel inspired to prepare nutritious meals at home and join him in the fight against child hunger.

NBC Latino: Of all the causes you could support, why support the fight against child hunger with Points of Light’s “One America” campaign?

JA: I think childhood hunger is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation. We are a leading country in the fight against hunger around the world but we also need to take care of our children here at home. As I chef, I always ask myself why do we only have to be feeding the few when we can be feeding the many? So as chefs and as the experts on food, I think we have a responsibility to help improve our food system. I believe it’s really important that when people come to the table to talk about food policy, farm bills, international aid, childhood nutrition, chefs should be at that table.

NBC Latino: In your opinion, why is this one of the most prominent issues nationwide?

JA: I believe that food is our most important resource. Next to breathing, eating is the one thing we need to survive. Food touches so many parts of our lives…health, education, security, culture, politics, and business. Our food system is so interconnected that i think it could help us solve so many of the food issues that we face. Nationwide, there are so many different parts of the problem, but subsidies are a huge issue here in America that I think prevents the food business from being on a level playing field. I am not for or against subsidies but I am for a fair and level market and with the way that food is subsidized now. Our subsidies go to the corn industry and that encourages people to eat a certain way when really our food industry should be more focused on producing more fruits and vegetables. It´s really important that Congress acts fast to sign a farm bill that works for everyone and gives equal opportunity to small farms. I think most importantly food has to be on the political agenda.

NBC Latino: What are your favorite inexpensive pantry and produce staples that families can keep at home to whip up healthy meals?

JA: I think one of the issues is that many Americans don’t always know what to do with ingredients like dried chickpeas and beans or even a whole chicken. These ingredients are so important to help feed families in a healthy way and for very little. This is how I cook at home not only because it’s affordable, but also because it is delicious. At the same time, people usually buy chicken breasts or thighs instead of the whole chicken because its easier to prepare, but a whole chicken can be more affordable and there are so many dishes that you can make with it. You can use the carcass to make soup or a stew, or something simple with the breast. I believe these are some of the staples that could be helping people to feed their families, but also its important to make sure that we give families the tools to know what to do with these humble ingredients that are tasty but healthy and affordable. So education is key.

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Chef Andrés helps assemble a mobile garden at the One America Miami event and Plant it Forward kick off.

Chef Andrés helps assemble a mobile garden at the One America Miami event and Plant it Forward kick off. (Photo/Credit Points of Light)

NBC Latino: Latinos disproportionately live in areas where food insecurity is often highest. What changes in policy would you like to see in order to end this disparity?

JA: I was recently in Dade County, Florida where I was very amazed to see what the superintendent, Alberto Carvalho has done in his schools. In my recent visit there, I was able to see firsthand how they are investing in teaching children about the power of food from fruits and vegetables to how seasons affect agriculture. I have also seen fish farms and gardens near the schools. I see this amazing food movement happening across America. In the same way that this is grassroots, policy doesn’t always happen from the capitol down. We have a responsibility to take action as individuals and in our schools. These are the decisions that will directly impact our schools and communities. We need to inspire our children because ultimately they will be our agents of change.

I don’t think policy changes should be mandatory because ultimately that doesn’t work, but we should encourage and incentivize. We need policy that encourages small and big businesses to be part of the solution, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it will be beneficial for everyone. You could do good, make money, and help people, and at the same time be part of the solution. I think this kind of change could trickle down, where one investment could help achieve multiple goals at the same time.

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NBC Latino: How can people at home lend support to this cause?

JA: I think it starts at home by showing our children to not only eat healthy but to really pay attention to our food system. Make your children a part of the dinner process. Take them to the farmers markets with you, have them talk to farmers to help them understand where our food comes from. As a society, we need to rebuild that relationship with our food in understanding where it comes from.

And think that education is also really important, so encourage your kids to take classes and become involved because our food system is so interconnected.  I am getting ready to teach my second course of “The World on a Plate: How Food Shapes Civilization” at George Washington University in January. I had an amazing experience last yea,r where I had very intelligent students who had different majors and agendas tell me the class helped them see the connection with society in general. So I think emphasizing this connection is really important.

NBC Latino: As you grow closer to earning U.S. citizenship, what type of nation do you envision leaving behind for all children? 

JA: The nation I would like to leave for them is precisely the one that understands that we all need to take care of each other, a nation in which people don’t feel alone and on in which we build communities where every member has a responsibility and feels important. Sometimes I feel we don’t always do this well because we are in a race with one another. Competition is very important for innovation, but the way forward is not by climbing the mountain and leaving everyone else behind. There will be people that are talented in different areas, and we need to plant the seed in the minds of the children of America, which tells them that it is okay to succeed and become competitive, but not at the expense of others.

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