With We Fed an Island, chef-and-restaurateur-turned-relief worker José Andrés doesn’t just tell the story about how he and a fleet of volunteers cooked millions of meals for the Americans left adrift on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He exposes what he views as an outdated top-down, para-military-type model of disaster relief ... No one is spared Andrés’s critical eye, including the chef himself ... Although it contains moments of real pathos, the book is not a saccharine, self-serving tribute to the work of thousands of chefs, line cooks, food truck operators and other volunteers who heeded the call to help from Andrés’s nonprofit organization, World Central Kitchen. It’s a manifesto asking governments and nonprofit groups to rethink the way they feed people after a natural disaster ... We Fed an Island is as close to a page-turner as current-affairs nonfiction gets.
Andrés’ heart is very much on display in his new book ... We Fed an Island isn’t just a memoir, or even a memoir with message — it’s an impassioned call to action. Bonus: Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the forward ... Threaded through these achievements, Andrés and Wolffe also provide context ... We Fed an Island is meant to be both an object lesson and a reminder of how much work there is yet to be done in Puerto Rico ... His book, however, will have more effect than any awards or accolades. We Fed an Island for all its righteous boosterism, is a tremendously valuable first-hand account of just what disasters look like — both the ones that nature visits upon us and those that we and our governments visit upon ourselves. It is both cynical and immensely optimistic, and it is ultimately heartwarming.
It’s a story of people feeding people wrapped up in a much bigger story of 3.4 million disaster-struck Americans treated like an unwanted afterthought ... Andrés paints sometimes shocking pictures of huge organizations paralyzed by often remote and indifferent administrators, crippling bureaucratic requirements, and an outdated idea of food that revolved around MREs, which are designed to be almost indestructible ... On the other hand, the story that Andrés spins of his group’s work on Puerto Rico is inspiring ... Andrés’s account is personally compelling, but it’s important in a much larger sense, too—it calls into question the relationship of the United States to its territories...and it raises the possibility that Big Aid is broken, and needs to be reinvented. You can’t read We Fed an Island without being angry on behalf of Andrés and Puertorriqueños ... while Andrés has scores to settle, he’s generally more interested in celebrating the people who helped and spotlighting the resilience of the islanders in the wake of disaster. It’s an important book, and as the rate of major weather events accelerates, its lessons will take on more resonance as the years go by.