I accidentally came across a short video on twitter by Chef Jose Andres. Chef Andres shared a recipe of a simple lentil soup and also a message: feed others with what you have. Feed your own family, feed the people around you. This simple message resonated with me, both as an educator and as someone who cooks. I am not a great cook, but can feed myself and others around me with the ingredients around me. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen in my formative years has taught me a few skills.
Food as philanthropy is a powerful idea. One individual that is doing well is Chef Andres, one of the 100 most influential people in the world as identified by TIME and also a philanthropist. He is a spokesperson for issues related to migration, philanthropy in the U.S. And his work can give us some ideas on what everyone of us can support and get behind, especially when institutions around us either don’t exist, to deal with issues that ordinary human beings are facing, or if they exist, they are not living upto their promise. This situation calls for a powerful force in American (and global) civil society: that of philanthropy and voluntary action.
While it is true that charity in itself cannot replace the function of governments with their billion (or trillion dollar) deep purses, at the very least, charity can act as a temporary support mechanism, a band-aid that can stop the bleeding. A crutch that can help people get by, till they get actual support and help, that they need, to get back on their feet. Philanthropy has a key role to play in promoting human welfare. It not only involves donations of money but also donations of effort, through volunteering.
Chef Andre’s work with World Kitchen Central is based on a simple premise : “Feed anybody that is hungry and bring water to anyone that is thirsty.” Another aspect of charity and philanthropy that is relevant is made clear by his statement “the urgency of now is now, not a week from now.” This profound statement, though somewhat simplistic at face value is key to understanding how charity and philanthropy during COVID-19 crisis can be useful : often it is driven by immediate needs. Immediate need to feed someone, to provide shelter, to donate Personal protective equipment etc.
By focusing on what drives a person, he/she can act immediately, whether by writing a check, donating masks or mobilizing people to volunteer. This need for ‘expressive giving,’ as scholar Peter Frumkin calls it, is central to the idea of philanthropy. And we are seeing this manifest now, during a pandemic. Some, for instance have raised questions about Huawei’s donations of masks to Europe and other parts of the world and questioned its intention.
While donor intent and passion are central to giving and voluntary action, they are not without problems. There can be corruption, hobnobbing with powerful elite and a million other ways that certain rich philanthropists can use their money and resources to gain advantage, by leveraging their philanthropy, during this time.
Regardless of how one feels about charity, there is no doubt that the humanitarian urge to contribute to a solution will exist. And that is a positive force that both communities and governments should leverage, to provide short-term and long-term solutions to people. At a time when governments are failing to provide what is needed, both in terms of resources and direction, to dealing with one of the biggest crises of this generation, it may well be that individual action and values may help bring us together, to address some challenging issues.
As Andres asks: “Coronavirus is facing us to ask ourselves, who are our leaders? Are they the ones who give speeches or the ones with boots on the ground to do things.” His charity is helping patients dealing with COVID-19 by feeding them.
Food may well be a starting point, but it doesn’t have to stop there!
If you wish to donate to World Central Kitchen, check out – https://donate.wck.org/give/236738/#!/donation/checkout