Turning Olympic food waste into nutritious meals for the needy

Chef’s project for Rio di Janeiro Games builds on Milan Expo initiative to combat food waste.

Rio olympics offices
Thanks to the "Reffetto-Rio" project, surplus food from the Olympic Village will be recovered and turned into nutritious meals for distribution to the neediest. Image: Jorge in Brazil (Rio 2016 Olympics offices (1)), CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Every year around one-third of worldwide food production is wasted or lost around the globe, entailing the simultaneous loss of all the resources - water, soil, agricultural inputs, feed - that went into its production.

The environmental impact of food loss and waste is enormous: A recent FAO study calculated that global food waste would, if calculated as a country, be the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter. Meanwhile, a third of all cultivated soils produce food that will never be eaten.

The good news is that initiatives to combat this trend are proliferating at the global level. Among these is the “Reffetto-Rio” project, an initiative presented in Rome on 8th July in the presence of Director-General José Graziano da Silva and Maurizio Martina, Italy’s minister of agricultural policies.

Thanks to the “Reffetto-Rio” project, surplus food from the Olympic Village during the Olympic Games about to commence in Rio de Janeiro will be recovered and turned into nutritious meals for distribution to the neediest. At the same time, cooking and nutrition classes will be given for the benefit of youth and those in difficulty. Volunteers have been invited to participate alongside 45 chefs from around the world in this project.

The initiative was conceived by Massimo Bottura, an internationally-renowned chef and founder of “Food for Soul”, along with David Hertz, a chief and founder of the “Gastromotiva” non-profit organisation. Both chefs were present at the event.

This kind of example can become an everyday trend. Everyone must do their part for a world of zero food waste and zero hunger.

Maurizio Martina, minister of agricultural policies, Italy

Echoes of the Milan Expo

The “Refetto-Rio” project can benefit from the significant experience of the Refettorio Ambrosiano that Bottura launched during the Milan Expo last year. That effort took surplus food from the pavilions around the International Exposition to be transformed into nutritious meals for the poor and homeless.

Still active today, the Refettorio Ambrosiano has engaged hundreds of volunteers and cooks from around the world and allowed for more than 15 tonnes of food from being wasted. It is an effective expression of the spirit of the Milan Charter and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“It is what can be termed a best practice, one that can be replicated elsewhere, and will be at the Olympics in Brazil,” said Martina. “This kind of example can become an everyday trend. Everyone must do their part for a world of zero food waste and zero hunger.”

Graziano da Silva hailed the important role chefs and gastronomic organisations have to play, alongside celebrated sporting activities, in raising awareness about the challenges of ending hunger and improving nutrition. “Every single citizen can contribute,” he added.

Pierfrancesco Sacco, Italy’s ambassador to the Rome-based United Nations agencies, and Giovanni Malagò, President of Italy’s National Olympics Committee, also spoke at the event.

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