Flashback to March 2020, the beginning of our pandemic-induced tailspin. One of the lessons we learned very quickly was that we, living in a first-world country, could not take our access to food for granted. Our most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods were among the hardest hit. Stories of hope and help came out of this time, including Lindsay Heights restaurant The Tandem’s free community meals. The need for those meals was so great and immediate that The Tandem’s owner, Caitlin Cullen, agonized over how they would keep people fed.
That help came, in the nick of time, from funding by the international relief organization World Central Kitchen, created to serve free meals and build food systems in areas ravaged by natural disasters and humanitarian crises. The 2017 earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Those are just a few of the disasters where WCK, founded by Spanish chef José Andrés, has offered relief since its creation in 2010.
In the new Ron Howard-directed film We Feed People the viewer rides along on Andrés’ journey to feed the suffering world. It’s as much a portrait of its charismatic founder as it is an examination of how this charity came to be and how it operates. One of the interesting – and integral – keys to WCK is that it doesn’t just deliver food and leave a devastated area. It works with the communities affected to rebuild its food system, sourcing local ingredients and bringing on local cooks to make the dishes that most lend comfort. “We own the moment,” Andrés says near the end of the film. “We own the responsibility to feed the people that are forgotten. I don’t see this as a job. It’s a call.”
The film is also in its way a call to action, to join, in spirit at least, WCK on these often treacherous roads to bring plates of hot food to those in need. Howard’s lens shows us that Andrés is the world leader we need right now.
We Feed People is part of the Film Feast series at the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival. You can see it playing at the Oriental Theatre’s Herzfeld Cinema on May 4 at 4:30 p.m. or as part of the virtual fest. For more information go to Milwaukee Film Festival’s website.