Do we take for granted the most basic advantage that we share? As chefs and cooks, we spend our days planning, ordering, storing and preparing dishes of delicious, beautiful food for our paying customers. We are good at this – it is a craft that we have fine-tuned over a period of years, or maybe decades. We work hard to make sure that what we do is just right, well defined, and nuanced so that each of us can proudly say – “I created this for you.” It is a noble craft, quite possibly one of the oldest and most gratifying of jobs. But, are we missing something important, something that is all around us, every day?
While we enjoy the fruits of our labor, and although we are likely underpaid and over-worked at times, we are usually well fed. I don’t know many cooks who go to bed hungry, or question where their next meal might be coming from. Yet, there are millions of people around the world whose entire existence is focused on trying to find where that next scrap of food might come from. Oftentimes this is a result of varying degrees of poverty and sometimes, through no fault of their own, people are victims of a natural or manmade disaster that has rocked their world and left them wondering about survival.
There are far too many people who turn their backs and try to ignore the horror experienced by far too many human beings just like us. There are even some who express a belief that people should simply rise up and find ways to care for themselves – easy to say when you have never faced hunger like those who are carrying that weight. Some may loosely use the statement: “I’m hungry” to express a grumbling stomach that missed a meal or late day snack, but real hunger is something that grips at the very existence of a person. It was Maslow who said that the first step in individual motivation is SURVIVAL. Survival is the ability to provide for food, shelter and clothing – without this step fulfilled, a person is unable to even contemplate performance at any other level.
As cooks and chefs we share a gift, a package of skills that allows us to take raw materials and create satisfying meals. It is, one of the most gratifying of jobs, and one of the most important experiences for recipients. How can we, as cooks and chefs, help to make the world a better place? Isn’t this something that, in our hearts and souls, is a loft goal that we all share?
“Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.”
-John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath
Let’s begin with something that I think we could all wrap our arms around in agreement: “No one should go truly hungry in a world that has so much.” If it were possible to live this statement, think about the positive ramifications. If the dietary foundational needs of a population were taken care of, then think about how the stage could be set for a better, more unified world. A lofty goal for sure, but isn’t it possible? An enormous job, but couldn’t we each start to take a step in that direction today? Could we each find it in our hearts to become involved, at some level in taking those steps?
I am in the process of reading Chef Jose Andres book: “We Fed An Island”, about his efforts at coordinating an organization of volunteers to help feed the island of Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria left their infrastructure, homes, hospitals, transportation, and communication systems destroyed. Chef Andres and a battery of volunteers – many of them cooks and chefs, fought to create a way to address the nutritional needs of the population. He knew that feeding the population was the first, and most critical step in setting the stage for recovery. Until people were fed, nothing else would be possible. Chef Andres established an organization: “World Central Kitchen” as a unifying non-profit group to address the needs of a hungry world population, especially when disaster strikes. As it states on their website – the organization is focused on the following:
“World Central Kitchen is changing the world through the eyes of a chef. As chefs, our work in the kitchen improves health, increases education rates, provides career skills, and creates food businesses.”
What a noble act of helping to makes the world a better place. Isn’t this a purpose that we could all adopt as part of our careers? Isn’t this a wonderful use of the gift of skill that we all share?
Each page of Jose Andres book inspires me and humbles me at the same time. “Shouldn’t I be doing more?” With this in mind, I turned to this blog with the hope that I might occasionally use it as a communication vehicle that can help us all stop and think about what we might do – how we might add real purpose to our careers.
 CONTRIBUTE WHAT YOU CAN TO WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN
This is an organization that is highly respected for its effective and efficient use of donated funds and in-kind supplies. Here is just a sample of results from 2017:
Puerto Rico Relief:
- 6 million meals served
- 26 emergency kitchens set-up
- 20,000 volunteers
California Wildfire Relief:
- 50,000 meals served
- 2,000 volunteers
The organization works where there is a need and is always looking for any level of donation, and even more importantly – volunteer cooks and chefs willing to help.
 VOLUNTEER WHEN DISASTER STRIKES
Whether through World Central Kitchen or simply paying attention to what is happening in your community – when disaster strikes – do what you do best – feed the people. Work with your vendors and regional restaurants to find ways to take the fear of hunger off the table so that the process of healing can take place.
 GIVE TO YOUR LOCAL FOOD PANTRY
Every community in your country has a need. Every population has individuals and families who wonder where their next meal is coming from. We all have more than we need and can spare something to help. A few canned goods, flour, peanut butter, jam, and jars of fruit – something that will help. Find out where your food pantries are and give what you can.
 VOLUNTEER AT A SOUP KITCHEN
It is likely that in your community there is also a soup kitchen that helps to provide that one hot meal a day to those who can ill afford to provide the same in their home, or those who are without a home and look for that meal to help to get them on their feet and pointed in the right direction. Imagine the impact that a professional cook could have on that type of operation. Your skills, a little training of others, and a kind word to those in need will go a long way.
 ORGANIZE FUND RAISERS FOR LOCAL PEOPLE IN NEED
One of the most rewarding events that I ever participated in was bringing chefs together to plan and execute a dinner to raise awareness and funds to help food pantries and those in need. The camaraderie around this common cause was priceless and area vendors are always generous with in-kind donations to help bring the most impact to the donation.
 TEACH SOMEONE TO COOK
Feed people when they are hungry, but teach them to cook and they will learn how to care for themselves. Everyone should know how to cook at some level – there is no greater gift that you can offer than to instill in people the enthusiasm and the skills to prepare a meal.
 SPEND TIME IN YOUR LOCAL SCHOOLS
It is hard to imagine that one of the greatest obstacles to learning is that far too many young people arrive at school without the benefit of adequate nutrition. Volunteer your time to help prepare meals, teach school cooks the tricks of the trade, or bring vendors, farmers, and school cafeterias together to help set the stage of quality education to take place. Feed them and they will have a greater chance at learning.
 SPREAD THE WORD
Talk with your friends in the business and encourage them to get involved. When you participate in a food for the hungry” event, call a friend and invite him or her along. Once you catch the fever of helping others, it will become part of your daily existence.
 MAKE GIVING A PART OF YOUR DAILY LIFE
Any one of these actions will help to make a difference. Sure, cooks and chefs work crazy hours and time is hard to find; certainly, cooks struggle with their own needs and we all know that pay scales are very limiting; absolutely, the enormity of the problem is such that it is easy to simply turn your back and say: “My contribution is never going to make a difference”, but in reality, each small step does help, and big solutions always begin with small steps.
I don’t personally know Chef Andres, but I would be willing to bet that although he is currently the face of this movement (even nominated this year for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts), he is a humble servant who simply wants to help make a difference. He is a chef who feels that he might use his celebrity to stimulate each of us to give a little and help make the world a better place.
During this holiday season, the season of giving, let’s make a promise to do what we can, no matter how small, in this regard. “No one should go hungry” – what a great mantra for professional cooks and chefs.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Culinary School Consulting
We Fed an Island
by: Jose Andres
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