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When Food, War and Politics Collide

The deadly Israeli strike on an aid convoy that killed seven workers for the relief group World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip shook official Washington this week. It prompted President Biden to issue his sharpest public criticism of Israel to date and spurred Israel’s military to make a rare admission of fault.

It also revealed the power of something that is usually an afterthought in national and global politics: food.

José Andrés, the celebrity chef who built World Central Kitchen from a scrappy outfit feeding hurricane victims to a $500 million relief organization operating in war zones, dialed up political pressure on both Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He spoke directly with Biden, White House officials said on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, in an interview with Reuters, he accused the Israel Defense Forces of “systematically” attacking the three-car convoy.

On Thursday, Biden held a tense call with Netanyahu, threatening to place conditions on future support for the country. Hours later, Israel said it would permit more aid deliveries in Gaza. It also promised new steps to reduce civilian casualties and broker a temporary cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages who are being held in Gaza by Hamas militants after they attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people.

I spoke with my colleague Kim Severson, a reporter who covers food for The New York Times and has written extensively about Andrés, about the celebrity chef’s political activism and why the deaths of these seven workers have drawn so much attention in a war that has already been so deadly. The interview was edited and condensed.

JB: We know José Andrés as a celebrity chef who brings relief efforts all over the world, and who doesn’t hesitate to wade into politics. How did his message evolve over the course of this week?

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