Chef José Andrés warns US food aid to Ukraine is wasted

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José Andrés urged US lawmakers to channel aid into Ukraine’s infrastructure to more effectively serve the war-torn nation, rather than spending money on food donations.

“Today, large quantities of unwanted food are being delivered without regard to what people in Ukraine can or want to eat,” the starred chef told lawmakers on Friday. “There is only as much dry noodles as a Ukrainian family needs.”

Andrés is the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization that uses locally sourced food to feed people affected by natural and man-made disasters. He testified at a hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on how to help conflict-affected Ukrainians and to examine the effectiveness of international aid organizations.

The Senate in May approved a more than $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that included billions of dollars in funding for international disaster relief and $760 million in global food aid through the State Department.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden (right) stands with Spanish chef Jose Andres, founder of the nonprofit World Food Kitchen, following a meeting with refugees from Russia’s war with Ukraine in March 2022 at the PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw, Poland.

Around 13 million Ukrainians have been displaced since Russia invaded the country in late February, the United Nations Human Rights Council reports. Andrés and WCK began feeding Ukrainian refugees in Poland within a day of the initial attack and aim to rely on local sourcing, something the US can emulate, he said.

“This is exactly the kind of information we want to hear,” the subcommittee chair said Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said in response to Andrés’ comments. “I’m not surprised because I think the situation here is extraordinary and we weren’t prepared for it.

“But with your help, with the help of the private sector, with the advice of people who are actually doing the work, I think we can make the adjustments that you recommend,” he said.

Read more: The struggle to feed the Ukrainian resistance

Haiti as a bad example

Andres used WCK’s work in Haiti after a 2010 earthquake to illustrate aid as an unsustainable solution. When the US fed Haitians in temporary shelters in Tijuana, many lost jobs because they could not sell their own rice and other food, leading to increased migration.

“By helping Haiti, we created other problems,” he said.

Andrés also criticized the activities of the UN and its World Food Program, saying he saw “no real presence” and conflicting policies there.

“It is significant that the World Food Program is bringing food to Ukraine, while at the same time the World Food Program is saying that it needs to export food from Ukraine to feed other countries,” he said. “It makes no sense. If you don’t have the right shoes on site, your decisions are often not the right ones.”

Other witnesses echoed the sentiment.

“UN refugee aid is 80% underfunded and donors – including the US – have channeled most of the funds through UN agencies rather than frontline actors,” said Amanda Catanzano of the International Rescue Committee. “Volunteers, local government and private sector resources are heroically filling in gaps, but that will diminish over time.”

The UN and the World Food Program did not respond to inquiries about Andres’ statements.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mia McCarthy at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhanov at [email protected]; Robin Meszoly at [email protected]

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