Since the start of the pandemic, West Point has endured many challenges that tested the will of the cadets. Typically, the U.S. Military Academy welcomes guest speakers to provide cadets with sage advice on how to deal with the trials and tribulations of leadership. Jose Andres, a chef, proprietor and co-founder of World Central Kitchen (WCK), was this year’s virtual guest speaker for the sixth annual Zengerle Family Lecture in the Arts and Humanities, on Feb. 17.
Bestowed by USMA Class of 1964 graduate, Joseph Zengerle, to commemorate his wife, Lynda, and their two sons, the lecture allows guest speakers from all walks of life to provide insight to cadets.
This year was a unique experience as Andres expounded on the importance of adaptation while performing a mission, food distribution and how the food you eat defines who you are as a human being, Col. Dave Harper, head of West Point’s Department of English and Philosophy, said.
Originally from Spain, Andres arrived in America in 1990, gained citizenship, and, in 1993, opened up his first restaurant in Washington D.C. Prior to venturing to America, Andres was a part of the Spanish Navy, Andres said.
“My Spanish Navy days were very important for me as a young boy growing up in Spain,” Andres said as he explained his six-month adventure out at sea working with a crew of 300 seamen. “My military service has been very important to who I am as a person, as a 51-year-old man who keeps learning, as a husband and father and as a member of my community. Without that year and a half in the Spanish Navy, I don’t know where I’d be now, so I’m super thankful of my time and I keep recommending that youth should enlist in the military.”
His experience in the Spanish Navy taught him the importance of adapting to any situation while on an assignment. He added formulating a plan before executing an assignment or mission is important, however, more often than not, things will not always go as you plan them.
“We must train our troops to understand that adaptation, in the 21st century, will always win over a plan. If we train our teams to follow the plan, chances are that things will never ever go as planned,” Andres said. “Therefore, if we don’t train our teams to adapt, success will, probably, never happen. World Center Kitchen teams, adapt. Why? Because the mission is clear, feed the hungry and bring water to the thirsty.”
Andrés formed the WCK in 2010 following the Haiti Earthquake. Moreover, the non-profit organization provides healthier food options to families and individuals who have been affected by natural disasters. Since the WCK’s launch, the organization has provided meals in Cambodia, Zambia, Peru, Nicaragua, Cuba and Uganda.
Since the start of the pandemic, WCK has served more than 35 million meals across the United States, Spain, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia, Andres said.
“More often than not we are always successful in bringing food to people, quick, fast and effective. (When operating under WCK) we are not cooks—we are machines of distribution,” Andres said. “If you don’t have good distribution systems, not only of goods, in this case, food, but of information, you will always fail. Which is why adaptation and effective distribution is very important for achieving victory on the battlefield or feeding people in need.”
Class of 2021 Cadet Mia Bean joined the interview and spoke on a New York Times article where Andres expressed a concern with the nutritional value of food available to those suffering from food insecurity. People dealing with food insecurity in the United States are often only able to afford food that lacks nutritional value and this can cause long-term health problems, Bean said.
“What do you think a secretary of food in the United States could do about these issues regarding the availability of nutritional healthy food for everyone?” Bean asked.
Andres responded when the talks of food distribution arise, everyone wants to be in charge, however, when everybody wants to delegate, there is no one available to perform the act of distributing food.
“I keep asking that we need a secretary of food to combat the problem of everyone wishing to be in charge, “Andres said. “We must have one leader that is supported by an effective team so that everyone can properly address orders and succeed on the issues we face. It is true that in recent years, calories have been overpowering nutrition itself. We are seeing the reality of people being overweight and unhealthy and to a degree, even hungry. Because the calories they eat are cheap.”
Andres said with a food secretary, he or she can harness the power of the federal government to solve the problems of emergencies like in Houston. Currently, in Texas, hospitals, elderly homes and shelters face the problem of lack of food distribution.
“And because we don’t have a unified response (on what’s happening in Texas), specifically on the issue with food distribution, nothing happens,” Andres said. “We need to make sure that we have that one key leader who can devise a plan that will allow us to remedy these issues through proper food distribution.”
Andres explained the importance of the type of food we eat and how it shapes who we are, what we can do and what we eventually become.
“We are unconscious the first time we were feed, but every human being has a connection with food because the first moment of love we receive is in the form of our mother feeding us at birth,” Andres said. “Each one of us needs our mother to feed us and if she is not able, your father will provide a baby bottle. We are unconscious of that moment, but I do believe this is buried deep inside our DNA and that shapes who we are.”