The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time
Also written by Richard Wolffe (co-author)
From the publisher:
The true story of how a group of chefs fed hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans after Hurricane Maria and touched the hearts of many more
Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world.
Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone. At the same time, they also confronted a crisis with deep roots, as well as the broken and wasteful system that helps keep some of the biggest charities and NGOs in business.
Based on Andrés’s insider’s take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, We Fed an Island movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future.
Beyond that, a portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chef Relief Network of World Central Kitchen for efforts in Puerto Rico and beyond.
This was an upsetting and eye-opening read. It is also an important one; we need to learn from our mistakes. Not that the current president would ever admit to making one. I’m not going to get too political here, but only because Chef Andres does it way better than I possibly could. In case you’ve forgotten, this book is about the rescue efforts after the devastating hurricane nearly destroyed the island of Puerto Rico.
Chef Andres pulls no punches and he names names. In fact, there is an entire chapter about the incompetence of the Red Cross alone. But they are not the only ones to blame. It all starts, and ends, with FEMA and the current administration.
“We knew that downed communications and electricity would make life difficult, but Puerto Rico was still the United States,” Andrés writes in his introduction. “It couldn’t be as bad as Haiti. We thought we’d be back by the end of the week. We were wrong.”
This book is not an easy read. A lot of it is upsetting. There are bright spots, of course, and Chef Andres’s big, sunny personality shines light on every page, even when he’s crying. And he cries a lot, with good reason. It is also not an easy read because it is chock full of statistics and numbers, which are not my forte. But even I was able to understand this nightmare and why the numbers were so important.
“Even the measures of food were confusing and FEMA had no way of understanding what was going on. The Red Cross talked about pounds of food, while others were talking about pallets. We preferred to talk about meals, which was actually what FEMA’s contracts specified. All these counts went into a big Excel spreadsheet that FEMA maintained and emailed every day. At the bottom of the spreadsheet, the total count of food was supposed to be there for everyone to see. Instead, the count was a calculating error because there was no standard unit of food that everyone used. If FEMA couldn’t manage a spreadsheet, how could it manage an emergency?”
I chose this book to read with my Foodie Book Club at Lynn University. I selected it for a few reasons, one being that the university takes seriously its role in educating students on the importance of civility and giving back. In a really big way. The other is a more personal tie. Chef Andres started his World Central Kitchen foundation after the earthquake in Haiti. Lynn University also suffered a devastating loss to that earthquake.
Ten years ago, 12 Lynn University students and two faculty members visited Haiti as part of a humanitarian course called Journey of Hope. They served the poor and brought hope to countless people with visits to a children’s handicapped home and an all-girls orphanage.
Following their service on Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. It devastated the island and took the lives of four of the 12 Lynn students and both faculty members. The university remembers Stephanie Crispinelli, Britney Gengel, Christine Gianacaci, Courtney Hayes, Dr. Patrick Hartwick and Dr. Richard Bruno every year, at the moment the earthquake struck.
There is a beautiful memorial on campus, and the university remembers everyone they lost each year.
Since the World Central Kitchen finished their work in Puerto Rico, they have been very busy. Most recently they sent meals to the people on board the Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan. It is easy to understand why Chef Andres gets the accolades he does; he is an extraordinary man, and this book is just a small part of his legacy. Don’t miss it.
3/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
WE FED AN ISLAND by Jose Andres. Anthony Bourdain/Ecco; Reprint edition (September 3, 2019). ISBN 978-0062864499. 288.