José Andrés Just Made A Food-Based Case For Helping Ukraine

There is no doubt that chef and humanitarian José Andrés is passionate about bringing aid to the people of Ukraine. His organization, World Central Kitchen, was quick to serve civilians near the country's Polish border when Russia's invasion began in February. By July, WCK said in a blog post that it had served more than 100 million meals, becoming "the largest food relief operation in Ukraine." 

Throughout the crisis, Andrés has shared updates with the international community on social media, including a recent Twitter video in which he explained why he believes people "need to support Ukrainians fully." The caption read, "As I was driving across Ukraine saw all the farmland ready to be harvest again. ⁦@Ukraine⁩ has enough food to feed themselves but many parts of the world don't!" The video showed the celebrity chef standing at the edge of a sunflower field, where, in normal times, farmers would be harvesting sunflowers for oil to be used in kitchens around the world. Because of the war, Andrés elaborated, Ukraine's "rich land" has been left unharvested, leaving countries around the world struggling without their key food sources.

Ukraine has plenty of food — but no way to harvest or export it

Confirming Andrés' words is a statement by Ukrainian agriculture minister Mykola Solsky, who told the Financial Times that many of the country's farmers have gone off to war. Even those who aren't in combat, he explained, are finding it difficult to do their agriculture jobs due to curfews and road blocks that restrict the use of equipment.

Experts are all too familiar with the agricultural implications of the war in Ukraine. For decades, the country's geographic advantages — such as fertile soil, efficient farms, and strategic ports — have made it Europe's "breadbasket," as well as a major food supplier to countries in Asia and Africa. Russia's block on Ukraine's grain exports has created such a serious food crisis that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the move "a war crime," per Reuters.

Making the timing of Russia's invasion particularly unfortunate is the fact that in June of 2021, Ukraine passed landmark legislation allowing farmland to be bought and sold for the first time in 20 years. The law, as reported by Bloomberg, was meant to benefit Ukrainians with additional export money and a more efficient and transparent agriculture industry, as well as the rest of the world with more food. Until the war ends, Ukraine's farmland will continue to be underutilized, and countries relying on the exporter for wheat, corn, sunflower oil, and other necessities will be at risk of hunger and food insecurity.