José Andrés (at right) in Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, José Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen established 18 kitchens and delivered 2.2 million meals in a decimated Puerto Rico. The chef started scaling back his efforts on October 25, and a New York Times article published five days later described him as having “clashed more than once with FEMA and other large organizations.” (FEMA reportedly reminded Andrés that he and his organization lacked experience.) Now, BuzzFeed reports that FEMA has expressed disappointment over Andrés’s public comments, telling the site he’s “a businessman looking for stuff to promote his business.”
FEMA’s director of its disaster operations division, Marty Bahamonde, tells BuzzFeed that it paid the chef and that what he did “wasn’t volunteer work.” The government awarded Andrés two contracts through FEMA, one for $1.5 million for 140,000 meals and another for $10,000. The agency says Andrés wanted a 60-day contract through December for $30 million, and that he was frustrated by what he perceived as bureaucracy obstructing his efforts. Bahamonde did praise Andrés as someone who was there to help and whose efforts led to “stabilization of food on the island,” while adding that there were others present, too. During an interview, Andrés responded to FEMA’s comments and chafed at them, saying whoever described him as a businessman in this situation “should be very ashamed of themselves.”
The public has received Andrés’s efforts as Herculean; he reportedly lost 25 pounds during the first 11 days. He tweeted criticisms, including that he was feeding the National Guard but that the government wouldn’t help his organization. He also described FEMA’s base of operations as “the most inefficient place on earth” and that it was leaving the island’s people “hungry and thirsty.”