Chef Andrés: Feeding Kids for Free Not Socialism, but Economic Investment

Spanish-American chef José Andrés speaks during a rally for Hillary Clinton on Oct. 26, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (Andres Leiva/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

WASHINGTON – Chef José Andrés, founder of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, said providing free healthy meals to every child in public schools has local economic benefits.

Andrés and Chef Alice Waters, author of Coming to My Senses, were asked how the U.S. could help those who do not have the resources to purchase organic and sustainable food but “want to make health sustainable choices.”

Waters pointed out that New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio recently decided to supply students in all public schools with free meals through the Free School Lunch For All program regardless of their family’s annual income.

“Certainly school, I think, is the best way because the kids bring that home to their families. But I always use the example of José, because I will buy an expensive chicken, but I know how to make three meals from that chicken for a family of four, and I hear José knows how to make six,” Waters said during a recent Food For Thought discussion hosted by the Washington Post.

“Now, this is about cooking.  This is about learning how to cook affordably and if you grow your own food, of course, that’s the very best way — to grow it. And during World War II, we grew it on the front lawns of the post offices,” she added.

Andrés recalled seeing his mother make half a dozen meals out of one chicken, so he shared the technique on the Today show.

“I said, ‘Let me just share this simple information,’ and that’s what we did. Talking about the school, if we should be feeding children for free or not – some people are going to say, ‘Oh, you socialist, oh you’ – at the end, it’s so funny because it’s all the same thing,” he said.

“If the New York School System feeds every child, it’s going to be benefiting the local economy in ways we don’t understand. You’re going to be hiring more people. You’re going to be doing it, if you are smart, even cheaper when things really happen by the volume that you can be achieving,” he added.

Andrés said he supports investing in helping children eat healthy early in life.

“Do we want to invest as a community, as a country, in the health of our children? Or do we want to throw money at the problem in fixing them when they’re 60 years old and unhealthy? And when we explain that problem in such a simple way, I will believe that we want to invest more money into the solution, which is keeping every American healthy, versus throwing money at the problem” with expenditures such as “fighting diabetes, fighting cancers that may be related to the food they ate when they were younger,” the chef said.

“This is a very simple thing. Who do we want to be: creators of solutions, or try to just throw money at the problem that we will never, ever be able to fix?” he added.

Andrés said the government should be investing in “the well-being of every single American.”

“I am the type of guy that believes investing into solutions is much more fascinating, helps the economies bottom-up, and keeps the community, the country we all love, as we want it: healthy, young communities, that they are going to be keep forever helping the economy, be moving forward, and all keep working towards that horizon of a country that is healthy and that is smart,” he said.

“But keep investing in what is important, the health and the well-being of every single American. If you are with me, that’s what you should be going forward. That’s what this woman has been doing,” he added.

Andrés visited Puerto Rico with his nonprofit organization in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and made more than a million meals.

Andrés wrote several tweets critical of President Trump after the hurricane. During the election, Andrés pulled his restaurant out of the Trump International Hotel project over comments the presidential candidate made about Mexicans. Trump’s lawsuit and Andrés’ countersuit have since been settled.

“If I were Donald Trump, I would not attack a leader that works nonstop for her people,” he wrote, referencing San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. He also wrote, “If I were Donald Trump, I would be in Puerto Rico to lead no more than two days after the disaster.”

Andrés was asked if he has a message for Trump after his time spent on the island.

“Wow. I don’t think we have to say anything to one person. I think we have to keep all of us talking between us. The Constitution of America, which I really love, doesn’t say ‘I the person,’ it says ‘we the people,’ and what I know is that my faith in humanity has multiplied by 10,” he said.

“Watching people that had nothing, that had no hope, that had electricity, no water – just to see the happiness on their faces, how they came together to be ‘we the people,’ all for one, one for all, barely complaining, just making the best of what they had,” he added.

Andrés credited Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse in California, with influencing him to help on the ground in Puerto Rico.

“Probably the reason I’m in Puerto Rico and I show up in other hurricanes and other earthquakes is precisely because of the person I’m here for today, which is Alice. People like her, especially her, and a few others, if people like me go to things like this and try to be culminating for change, it’s because people like her, a woman like her, began doing what nobody thought was possible and she didn’t do it by planning. She didn’t do it by talking. She did it by action,” he said.

“In Puerto Rico, the only thing we did was we began cooking. We didn’t plan. We didn’t meet. We began cooking and we delivered one meal at the time. What Alice 47 years ago began doing—she began cooking. And this tells you the message that I—by actions, you change the world. By talking, you learn English,” he added.