A Vancouver chef who grew up in Venezuela is donating proceeds from his restaurant to raise funds for the hunger crisis in his home country.
Venezuela is in the midst of a years-long political, economic and humanitarian crisis. Limited amounts of basic staples like rice, pasta and milk line store shelves, and food riots are a common occurrence.
According to some studies, almost three-quarters of the population have lost weight in the last year. The country has also experienced record levels of child malnutrition and an increase in child mortality.
Although there were persistent food shortages under late President Hugo Chavez the crisis deepened in recent years under the country's current president, Nicolas Maduro, elected in 2013. This summer the country was racked with protest as Maduro won a bitterly-disputed vote for a new powerful legislative superbody that some say takes the country closer to authoritarian rule.
Jefferson Alvarez is the chef and co-owner of the restaurant Cacoa in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood. Though he left Venezuela at age 15, he felt compelled to do something to help alleviate the suffering back in his home country.
"The shortage of food has been critical in the country," Alvarez said. "I [visited] there 10 years ago and it was pretty bad. It got [much] worse very quickly."
Alvarez's friend Carlos Garcia, a chef who owns the world-renowned restaurant Alto in Caracas, Venezuela, started a charity called "Barriga Llena Corazón Contento" which translates to Full Belly, Happy Heart.
With the funds he collected, Alvarez says Garcia was able to set up a soup kitchen at a local children's hospital.
"Chefs like Carlos are [trying to] do their part, and he inspired chefs like me and many others around the [world] to do so also," he said.
Alvarez, along with chefs in New York, Mexico, Copenhagen, and elsewhere are making special efforts to raise funds for Garcia's charity.
With the support of Blue House Organics, a Pemberton, B.C. farm owned by Alejandro J. Sucre, who is also contributing funds to the charity, Alvarez is donating proceeds from selected menu items at his restaurant.
"We're trying to put as much as possible [from the menu] towards the cause," he explained.
Alvarez hopes his efforts can make a difference.
"I had a great childhood. It was a great country. I never understood politics or anything at that young age," he said.
"To see what's happening now — even on the internet — to see the places you frequented as a child destroyed, it's just horrible."
The Canadian government has called on President Maduro to cancel the summer's controversial vote, release all political prisoners, restore the constitutional rights of Venezuelans and set an electoral calendar. It has stopped short of imposing sanctions on Venezuela like the Trump administration did in July.
With files from The Early Edition