José Andrés, Think Food Group

By Kathryn Holland Besser
Photos by Kaye Cloutman

No question José Andrés is a passionate advocate for a smarter approach to feeding the planet’s growing population. His words are an urgent call to action for the entire world. We endeavor to share these important ideas by capturing his inspirational opening keynote address as closely as possible.

Opening Keynote

José Andrés: Everything is interconnected. How we are going to feed the rich (for profit, e.g. the finest and most expensive products) is connected to how we feed the poor. It is not enough to do good; we need to do good intelligently. Food and technology– why are we here at BITE Silicon Valley is probably the most prosperous place on Earth, not only in terms of technology but also what we can grow in our soil. A lot of what happens here (technology) leads the world but also the way we eat, grow and produce foods. The leading edge shouldn’t be happening anywhere but here in the heart of Silicon Valley (for the betterment of lives all over the world). The most important energy we invest in should not be gas; it should be food. Food is the world’s most important energy– we need to put this into everyone’s heads, especially our politicians.

Food is the first thing we do: from the moment we are born up until the time we die. Food is many things. It is an amazing way to build bridges between faraway places: through the ingredients as well as the preparation. And yet the conversation about food always seems to be negative. Food is environmentally destructive. Lack of food creates hunger; it leads to wars. Excess food leads to obesity. Now, we have the poor having more available food but the calorie intake is of the poorest quality and it is creating sick societies. Food must be an agent of change. It must be seen not as the problem but as the solution. The way we produce food can and should make our environment better. We need to grow and produce food that will fill everybody up fast, and in the right way. Humanity needs food that lifts us up, not brings us down.

José Andrés: When we discovered fire, we gained control over our environment. But in the midst of the most advanced cooking in the world, there are still people using three rocks on the floor and wood (over 1 billion people cook this way). The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves ( was created with the goal of building safe, cleaner-burning cook stoves for the poorest places in the world. This can be the difference between life and death for many people:

  •  Too much smoke from wood fires causes severe health problems
  •  30-50% of a poor family’s daily budget is spent on wood for cooking
  • Too many young children are asthmatic because of constantly breathing acrid wood smoke

If we can alleviate the budgetary strain, imagine how much higher a quality of life these families will have. Who gathers the wood? It is typically young girls, who are the least valued within the world’s poorest communities. This leaves them vulnerable to rape and keeps them out of school. Trees are cut down and forests are deforested; this leads to soil erosion and danger of mudslides. Good topsoil is washed away. This, in turn, affects the next year’s harvest. Soil washes to the sea; this affects the coral which is then detrimental to fish. Clean cookstoves allow less charcoal and less wood to be used. Children may go to school as they will spend less time gathering wood. By 2020, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves aims to bring 100 million clean cookstoves to 100 million homes.

We need to start thinking about how our for-profit companies can make poorer communities successful on their own, instead of just writing a check to a non-profit at the end of the year. We need to bring along all the people who have been left out of the system of wealth. If we can do that, we will have accomplished the most important goal of our lifetime. We need to include those we do not agree with (i.e., Monsanto) and we need to keep the dialog constantly going. Keep an open mind; share your ideas. Food is and will be the solution to all the issues on our planet.