Although he is only one man, José Andrés has the energy and drive of dozens. After arriving in New York from Spain in 1991, his outsized talents and personality propelled him to fame as one of the first modern celebrity chefs. Her DC hotspot Jaleo launched an expansion that eventually encompassed around 30 restaurants, cookbooks, a line of kitchen products, courses at major universities and television appearances.
But as Ron Howard recounts in “We Feed People,” the closer Andrés got to having it all, the more aware he became of how many others had nothing.
Andrés’ NGO, World Central Kitchen, started in 2010 but kicked into high gear in 2017 in response to Puerto Rico‘s Hurricane Maria. When he faced bureaucratic obstacles from government organizations, he eagerly brushed them aside, aiming to establish his own form of sustainable aid. As he says in the film, “I’m good at seeing opportunity where others see chaos.” So while President Trump tossed rolls of paper towels into a desperate crowd, Andrés and his group secured safe kitchens, water and food available, chefs to cook, and volunteers to distribute.
“We don’t just feed people,” he teaches a local member of the Puerto Rican relief team as they study a map of towns in need. “We create systems.”
Much of the film provides visual evidence of this philosophy, as the camera – often held by volunteer crew members – follows him from one devastated community to another. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes: every disaster requires a new system, and the beauty of Andrés’ approach is the way he rethinks calcified tactics. Most notably, he forcefully rejects the easy, barely edible MREs offered by the government, in favor of personally prepared and locally influenced meals.
While this method may seem more complicated, it becomes, remarkably, much more practical, using available products, supporting struggling businesses, and providing emotional and physical nourishment when and where it is most needed.
Howard also gives us a glimpse of others in Andrés’ busy life: the heroic wife and loving daughters he sees too rarely, the volunteers he inspires, the staff members who must find practical ways to manifest his great vision – and are severely attacked. when they don’t or can’t. One of the film’s most electric moments involves an argument with a co-worker who takes on the harassment. Andrés insists on explaining herself to an unstable witness, speaking over her as she tries to close her apology.
But these humanizing sections are really too short; an expansion of the personal stories would have made the film feel fuller and more complex. Climate-conscious viewers might also wish the film had delved into the implications of so many of these disasters, which, Andrés observes bluntly, are now multiplying at a terrifying rate.
Its practical contribution to millions of citizens of the world is truly astounding in its generosity, innovation and practical application. But without the depth of the other threads, the film itself (which was produced by WCK CEO Nate Mook and Richard Wolffe, the managing director of José Andrés Media) may feel less cinematic than advertising.
“We Feed People” looks like a partner project from WCK’s photobook “We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico One Meal at a Time,” and even vivid videos of Andres on social media. One could easily imagine the film playing at a World Central Kitchen gala, motivating guests to greater support.
But as an education and, above all, an inspiration, the film wholeheartedly succeeds. Those unfamiliar with WCK, and even those who do, will be impressed at how much difference individual efforts really make. As Andrés notes, in the run up to another crisis, there will never be a shortage of needs. Many viewers can, in fact, end the movie and go straight to his Twitter feed for even more. The week the film premieres at SXSW 2022, they’ll likely find it in Odessa, Lviv, or one of the border points where its team is currently feeding hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
“We Feed People” will premiere on Disney+ in May.