When disaster strikes, chef Jose Andres and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen have been there to feed the hungry: in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in California after residents lost their homes to wildfires, and most recently in his home city of Washington.
But federal workers do not live only in D.C. Now World Central Kitchen is reaching out to chefs across the country, including Boston, in an effort titled #ChefsForFeds: “If you’re a restaurant, food truck, nonprofit, or business interested in serving meals in your community to some of the 800,000 federal employees impacted by the shutdown, we want you!” said the call to action on the organization’s website.
High-profile chefs including Ming Tsai, Hugh Acheson, Rick Bayless, Emeril Lagasse, and Andrew Zimmern have signed on. Local restaurants answering Andres’s call include Tsai’s Blue Dragon, Mei Mei, Pabu, and Pagu, with many others, from Villa Mexico to Stoked Wood Fired Pizza, poised to join them.
In the meantime, other restaurants are starting their own offers: On Monday, Bon Me will begin giving anyone with a federal employee ID a free sandwich from 5 p.m. until closing; starting Thursday, Pennypacker’s will give ID holders a free sandwich or salad at its food truck in the city or its brick-and-mortar restaurant in Somerville; and this Saturday and Sunday, from 6 to 8 p.m., federal employees can get a free meal at any of sweetgreen’s 90 locations around the country. “People should be doing things [to help], especially feeding people,” says sweetgreen cofounder Nicolas Jammet. “It seems like the most basic of rights and necessities. We are super excited and proud to do it. . . . It means people will get a healthy meal.”
Plenty of businesses are already offering help to federal workers, but this effort aims to bring everyone together, making it easier for people to find the resources — and drawing attention to the number of workers affected.
World Central’s executive director, Nate Mook, noted that this week workers are missing their second paychecks. “The need is getting more and more as time goes on. The idea was: Let’s see how the industry can band together as a community, support each other, and share the load. Here’s a banner we can rally round together, to raise awareness, because we want to be sure this doesn’t become normalized.”
This is just a starting point, Mook says. As the needs of different communities make themselves clear, World Central Kitchen may be able to help steer volunteers to different locations, or to defray some of the costs for businesses that want to participate but can’t quite afford to.
“There’s an incredible value and importance to showing this industry rallying together,” Mook says. “It’s forcing our leaders to see what’s happening. When it’s diffused, it’s easy to ignore how many people are really being hurt by this.”
Mei Mei launched its #ChefsForFeds offer yesterday. “Our plan as of right now is between 2 to 7 p.m. every day, we’re going to be offering $15 off a meal with a federal ID, and we’re going to be able to do that for up to 20 meals per day,” says restaurant cofounder Irene Li. (That’ll buy you a Double Awesome, an egg-and-cheese sandwich on a scallion pancake, with enough left over for a Magical Kale Salad, or maybe some pierogi dumplings.)
“We are very much a community-oriented business, and we work with a lot of community organizations that focus on hunger,” says Li, who is on the boards of Project Bread, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, and Haley House. “Any time there’s an opportunity for us to be feeding people who are for whatever reason not able to pay . . . we’re really happy about that. What’s nice in this case is that feeding furloughed workers is not a particularly partisan issue. It’s a clearly positive thing to do regardless of your political beliefs. It’s not that often we get to do something that’s relevant to politics but not inherently politically charged.”
Blue Dragon was already serving furloughed government workers free Shutdown Dumplings when Andres’s team reached out to chef-owner Tsai. “Sign me up. Because how can you not. I have the capacity, I have the right people, and if you can give back, you should give back,” Tsai says. He’s been serving the dumplings in the restaurant from 2 to 5 p.m. (no need to leave a tip, he says); during peak restaurant hours, Blue Dragon packs them to go. Starting Monday, the restaurant will also be offering a variety of rice bowls, with purveyors T.F. Kinnealey & Co. and B&W Quality Growers donating meat and watercress, respectively. “It doesn’t just have to be chefs giving out,” Tsai says.
Andres, whom Tsai calls a friend and “one of the finest beings ever,” is his inspiration, he says. Andres has been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with World Central Kitchen; originally from Spain, he operates acclaimed restaurants such as Jaleo, Minibar, Oyamel, and more.
“Isn’t it ironic,” Tsai says. “Eight thousand people . . . were fed in D.C. because the president wants to build a wall to keep out immigrants, but an immigrant is feeding your federal employees.”