Sustainable America Blog

How One Chef Is Fighting Food Waste at the Rio Olympics

Refettorio Gastromotiva in Rio for the 2016 Olympics

RefettoRio Gastromotiva in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Leo Aversa

As nations around the world have been preparing teams to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, chef Massimo Bottura has assembled a dream team for his own kind of sport: feeding people in need from food that would go to waste.

The Italian chef’s nonprofit, Food for Soul, has teamed up with Gastromotiva, a Brazilian nonprofit, to create RefettoRio Gastromotiva, a soup kitchen project inspired by Bottura’s first foray into bringing attention to food waste last year in Milan. There, at Milan Expo 2015, he staged Refettorio Ambrosiano, a food recovery soup kitchen that was able to recover 15 tons of food over five months to feed people in need.

RefettoRio Gastromotiva, which opens today in Rio, is projected to recover 12 tons of food surplus from the Olympic Village in just 44 days during the Olympics and Paralympics. The recovered food will be transformed into meals by top chefs from around the world, including Alain Ducasse and Andoni Aduriz, and former Gastromotiva students. Dinners will be prepared in a 108-speat space in Rio’s Lapa neighborhood and served free of charge to residents in need.

Chef Massimo Bottura

While Bottura’s goal for RefettoRio Gastromotiva is to shine a light on the global issue of food waste during the Olympics, after the games are over and the media leave, RefettoRio Gastromotiva will live on. The city has granted the space to Gastromotiva for 10 years. It will become a restaurant-school that will offer workshops on nutrition and healthy food, and it will continue to offer free meals funded through a “pay a lunch and leave a dinner” model.

So what drives an internationally acclaimed chef whose restaurant Osteria Francescana just earned the top spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list to work on the issue of food waste?

“I promised my mother I would use my fame to make invisible people visible. The time has come to give back to the world what it has given to me,” said Bottura. He told Eater that he wants to bring back the culture of Italian grandmothers who eschewed waste and knew how to use every last bit of every ingredient.

Bottura’s visibility has helped attract corporate sponsors for his “community kitchen” projects, of which more are reportedly in the works, including a project in the Bronx with actor and restaurateur Robert De Niro.

And while one goal of his organization is to reduce waste and feed people directly, ultimately Bottura wants to inspire and empower other communities to do the same. We’re excited to see what he’s cooking up for future projects here in North America and around the world!

Inspired by this story? Get involved by volunteering with a local food rescue group. Find one in your area through the Food Rescue Locator.

Photo of Massimo Bottura by Paolo Terzi.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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