Making its premiere at SXSW 2022 was Ron Howard’s entertaining and exciting documentary We Feed People, focusing on celebrity chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen, an organization that charges into disaster areas to provide food to survivors.
As We Feed People opens, a vehicle is being violently tossed around in floodwaters. It seems as if it’s going to tip over and become submerged, and someone offscreen inquires, “Can everybody swim?” It’s the voice of chef José Andrés as he and his team are attempting to bring meals to displaced people in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence left a path of destruction.
Thus begins Ron Howard’s intimate documentary about the chef and his laudable efforts to bring a warm meal and, hopefully, some comfort to people around the world who are recovering from disaster.
A Celebrity Chef with an Altruistic Spirit
Raised in Spain, Andrés came to America and became a culinary superstar. He wrote cookbooks, won awards, ran successful restaurants and was a ubiquitous presence on television food shows. Then, the 2010 Haiti earthquake awoke the altruistic spirit in the multiple award-winning chef, and World Central Kitchen was born.
Both of his parents were nurses. As a youth, he spent time in hospital wards with them, and their compassion for others seemed to have rubbed off on him. There’s nothing phony or “camera-ready” about what he’s doing.
Andrés also understood that food is just as important as anything else survivors need, and he set out to deliver just that. And these aren’t baloney sandwiches and bags of chips. They’re hot meals, prepared according to the tastes of the particular culture of the people they happen to be feeding. He speaks this “food language” with the help of local cooks who know how to make the food their people prefer, “and not the way some white savior thinks it should be cooked.”
At times, playing fast and loose with rules is how he gets things done. If he waited for bureaucratic red tape to be clipped, people would suffer more—perhaps even starve. During the 2019 mission in the Bahamas, for example, when asked if they actually had permission to fly into a remote area, a team member said, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness [later].”
Although We Feed People mostly steers clear of politicization, it includes footage of then-President Trump cynically flinging rolls of paper towels at Puerto Ricans, contrasted with Andrés actually on the ground doing something.
Along with various team members, the film also includes interviews with Andrés’s wife and children. While offering him unconditional support, they worry that he’s burning himself out. He worries about being away from them for too long. But then there’s another disaster to rush off to.
Howard’s film runs a tidy 87 minutes, swiftly telling the story of this (literally) bigger-than-life man who seeks to do good in the world. Beautifully photographed by Kris Kaczor, it is truly a bird’s-eye view into the efforts of the organization.
In fact, Andrés couldn’t attend the SXSW premiere of We Feed People because he’s helping to take care of the people of Ukraine.
We Feed People will air on Disney+ in May.