Review: ‘We Feed People’ chronicles chef José Andrés’ efforts to help people in crisis
Ron Howard’s absorbing new documentary about chef José Andrés and his nonprofit relief organization, World Central Kitchen, opens with Andrés’ team navigating flooded roads to deliver food after 2018’s Hurricane Florence. Soon enough we’ll see him visiting Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, then Puerto Rico and the Bahamas in the wake of hurricanes as well as other locales after disasters and pandemics.
Andrés moves around so much — and without much advance warning — that his daughters joined Twitter simply to “keep track of him” around the globe.
What makes Andrés run? “We Feed People” doesn’t probe deeply for answers beyond making a convincing case that he has an insatiable passion for feeding hungry people and creating systems where they can take care of themselves in the wake of calamity. In this long era of ego-driven celebrity chefs, we’ve become well-acquainted with the idea that these people feel at home with chaos. Andrés simply takes this ease with anarchy outside the kitchen as he and his organization try to stamp out suffering.
The film, a National Geographic production that begins streaming Friday on Disney+, is engaging and inspiring, outlining Andrés’ journey from bestselling cookbook author and tapas evangelist to a man whose wife has a backpack ready for him at all times so he can leave home at a moment’s notice. His “calling” began in 2010 when an earthquake hit Haiti while he was vacationing in the Cayman Islands. Seeing the images of destruction, he said, “Let’s go,” not so much to help, he says, but to learn.
Once there, Andrés started making meals. And he discovered that he had to listen and adapt to communities in order to truly meet their needs and not just be a “white savior” but someone who values understanding above all else. World Central Kitchen was born from that trip and it has been filling the gaps in government response to disasters ever since.
Howard’s movie comes from a clear place of love for the affable Andrés, but it doesn’t turn him into a superhero. The film chronicles moments of exhaustion and frustration, including an episode where he berates a World Central Kitchen volunteer who violated protocol in the Bahamas by feeding a hungry woman before relief stations had been established. Andrés tries to right his mistake later but to no avail. Sometimes chaos gets the best of you.
“We Feed People” premiered in March at the SXSW Film Festival, just as World Central Kitchen workers were helping Ukrainian residents and refugees. That ongoing effort did not make it into the movie. And, of course, there will be more crises to come. It’s easy to give in to despair. What “We Feed People” makes clear is that you can help with a simple, small act of empathy.
'We Feed People'
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Available May 27 on Disney+
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