Celebrity Chef Turns Olympics’ Food Waste in Meals to Rio’s Poor Population

massimo bottura
Photo via Hypeness

Italian modernist chef Massimo Bottura, who owns the three Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana, in Modena, Italy (a typical meal there costs around 200 euros), believes that cooking is about more than just putting quality ingredients together ― “cooking is a call to act,” he says.

Along with Brazilian chef David Hertz and journalist Alexandra Forbes, also more than 40 colleagues from around the world, Bottura created RefettoRio Gastromotiva, which aims to turn surplus food from the Olympic Village into some 5,000 nutritious meals for Rio’s poorest population. They work only with ingredients that are about to be wasted and the meals are cooked, free of charge, for needy residents of the Lapa neighborhood, including the homeless.

The initiative follows a similar project, Refettorio Ambrosiano, launched by the chef and his crew during the Milan Expo in Italy in 2015.

reffetorio massimo
Photo: Rafael Cavalieri

Services have begun on August 9 and after the Olympics, Refettorio plans to increase its reach by becoming a culinary ­school with the concept of “pay a lunch and leave a dinner,” where clients who eat lunch there contribute to a dinner for people in situations of social vulnerability. “For now it’s still only a dream. We need strategic partners to make this happen. It seems amazing but we need investors.”

reffetorio massimo bottura
Photo: Renata Monti

Waste has become the most important problem related to food in a society that cannot handle its redistribution of resources. Between 30 and 40 percent of food produced around the world is never eaten because it is spoiled after harvest and during transportation, or thrown away by shops and consumers. On the other hand, almost 800 million people worldwide go to bed hungry every night, according to U.N. data. In Brazil, hunger dropped to under 5 percent of the population in 2015 from almost 15 percent in 1990. Yet in the country of 208 million people, that means millions still don’t have enough food.

The Olympics have not been uniformly well-received by the residents of Brazil’s numerous shanty towns. In the lead-up to the games, there have been reports of skirmishes between local gangs trying to carve out territory; armed police have established a presence some residents find discomforting. Residents of other favelas were evicted to make room for stadiums and other facilities that have racked up the country’s debt.

RefettoRio Gastromotiva may or may not initiate a shift in the landscape of hunger in Rio but it’s surely a great help for those have nothing in their plate right now.

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