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Visiting Scholar Massimo Bottura Promotes Social Justice with Food

 

By Fabio Parasecoli, Associate Professor and the Coordinator of Food Studies

As food becomes more visible and central in contemporary culture, media, and politics, chefs are increasingly expected to participate in current debates on important issues ranging from health to justice and the environment. In particular, those who enjoy global visibility and celebrity appeal at times may assume a leading role in introducing changes in the way we produce, consume, and even think about food. While some culinary stars are not especially comfortable in such position, which comes with high expectations, others have embraced it fully. While they work in their restaurants, they also write, speak, and launch initiatives that are meant to make people think and, hopefully, modify their behaviors. That’s the case with the Italian chef Massimo Bottura.

Massimo opened Osteria Francescana in 1995 in his hometown of Modena, Italy. Over the past decade, he has become the leader of the contemporary Italian kitchen. In June 2016, Osteria Francescana was awarded the No. 1 position on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Bottura is trying to introduce not only novelties in terms of materials, methods, and dishes, but also new concepts and guiding principles that are meant to foster long-lasting paradigm shifts in various aspects of the food system, moving it toward social justice, food security, and environmental sustainability.

During the 2015 Milan Expo, which focused on food and nutrition, Bottura focused on using the produce and ingredients from the mega-event that would go to waste to create a new model of providing nourishment to the needy. The result was the Refettorio Ambrosiano, an abandoned theater next to a church in a working-class neighborhood in Milan. In this space, Bottura invited some of the most famous chefs from around the world to get creative and find ways to provide tasty food by taking advantage of what would be otherwise thrown away. Immigrants from other countries, refugees, as well as Italians, some of them homeless, are invited to enjoy a welcoming atmosphere where their needs are met with dignity and respect. In the Refettorio famous chefs (mostly unknown to the guests) prepare delicious dishes, while volunteers serve food to the guests like in a restaurant, avoiding some of the dynamics of soup kitchens and the social stigma that comes with it. By launching Refettorio, Bottura underlined the problem of food waste and the contributions chefs can provide by collaborating with food security experts, designers, and architects, so that nutritious and flavorful meals are made available to the needy while creating a sense of community and participation.

 

 

The experience was so positive that Bottura launched a Refettorio in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics, making use of the food that was bought for the athletes and never used, and later one in London. To manage and coordinate such initiatives, together with his wife Lara Gilmore, Massimo Bottura founded Food for Soul, a non-profit organization that aims to empower communities to fight food waste through social inclusion. Its goal is to encourage public, private and non-profit organizations to create and sustain community kitchens around the world. Each project aims to bring a sense of dignity back to the table by promoting the values of art and beauty, encouraging solidarity within local communities and recovering food, places and people.

When we, as a Food Studies program, started collaborating with the Institute of Culinary Education to organize the conference Zero Waste Food, which took place on April 28 and 29, 2017, we immediately decided to reach out to Massimo as a possible keynote speaker – an invitation which he accepted. At the same time, we organized the first US screening of the film Theater of Life, by Peter Svatek, which later became available on Netflix. In Theater of Life, food is not only a pleasure to covet, but also sustenance and consolation. As awesome as they may be, the featured chefs are not the only stars; the less glamorous aspects of food, its distribution, and its preparation take center stage together with the guests. Food’s power to bring people together and provide some comfort, as temporary and not devoid of contradictions as it may be, is highlighted.

Thanks to a grant from the Tishman Environment and Design Center, we were able to hire a graduate student, Cecilia Depman, to collaborate on a research project aiming at evaluating the opportunities to open a Refettorio in NYC. Led by Food for Soul leaders Massimo Bottura, Lara Gilmore, and Cristina Reni, the exploration focused on building a coalition of stakeholders interested in community empowerment through food. The participants researched the emergency food environment in the Bronx by visiting soup kitchens and understanding successful models for service.

 

 

Many organizations and passionate individuals are committed to improving the health and nutrition of Bronx residents through improved access to food.  In New York, food insecurity is a problem increasingly being solved through repurposed food waste. Organizations such as City Harvest have established networks that redirect unused food to emergency food providers such as soup kitchens and food pantries around the city.

Food for Soul is interested in finding untapped potential in community spaces and otherwise wasted food to feed communities. A restaurant style soup kitchen model has a unique capacity not only to unite individuals around a communal table, but to establish an inclusive space for community and culture to flourish. The research that took place in the Bronx last semester helped to plant the seeds for a project such as this; one which would build upon the existing landscape of healthy food initiatives, and reimagine the role of unused food and space in the health, spirit, and well-being of a community.

Special thanks to the Tishman Environment and Design Center.

Warriors Against Waste: These Restaurants And Bars Are Aiming For Zero

Via Xavier Buendia/Courtesy of Doug McMaster

 

Continuing the discussion on food waste…

Chef Douglas McMaster’s flagship restaurant, Silo, takes that “industrial chic”aesthetic that dominates the modern dining scene to a whole new level. Located an hour south of London, in Brighton, England, the restaurant inhabits a 180-year-old building that’s been styled into something like a barn — or maybe a grain silo. Let’s call it pre-industrial chic.

After all, McMaster has said that Silo isn’t a restaurant so much as it is a “a pre-industrial food system that generates zero waste.”

Zero waste has become a sort of buzzword in the foodie world recently. From San Francisco to New York, London to Amsterdam, restaurateurs are challenging themselves to reduce the staggering amount of food waste that the industry generates (an estimated 571,000 tons annually by U.S. restaurants alone) and the amount of other resources they use — including electricity and water. From rejecting plastic straws to making byproducts like whey the star of a meal — restaurants are approaching that challenge in different ways.

Read on at The Salt.

Designing the Future of Food

Via KATJA GUIJTERS
Via KATJA GUIJTERS

 

We can learn something – actually quite a lot – about our culture by looking at how we imagine the future of food. Are we all going to starve, as Malthus prophesied back in the eighteenth century? Or will we find ways to feed the growing humankind? And what kind of resilience will we embrace? Will it be based on science and technology, or will it rather rediscover the ways of our ancestors? As Warren Belasco indicated in his masterly Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food, these scenarios are far from objective and neutral. They are rather the expression of ideologies and political negotiations that are solidly rooted in our present and our evaluation of the societies in which we live.

As I have already discussed in this space, a relatively new voice has joined this conversation: food design. Design as a discipline is very much focused on the innovation we can introduce in our daily lives. As designer Todd Johnston observed, “A design marks out a vision for what can be; the act of designing is to move with intent to close the gap between existing conditions and that vision.” Back in 1999, design theorist Tony Fry famously considered design as a weapon against defuturing, that is “the condition of undermining viable human futures through our contemporary modes of habitation.”

As food becomes increasingly central in how we imagine ourselves and the world, it is inevitable that design expands its sphere of interest and practical applications to food. Food design, as the founding document of Food Design North America states, “includes any action that can improve our relationship with food individually or collectively. These actions can relate to the design of food products, materials, practices, environments, systems, processes and experiences.” The relevance of the reflection about what’s coming is highlighted in a Kickstarter campaign that is raising funds for MOLD: The First Print Magazine About the Future of Food.

Food Design, the book written by design critic Ed van Hinte on and in collaboration with Katja Gruijters, is a stimulating addition to this conversation. Its subtitle, “Exploring the Future of Food,” excludes nostalgia and luddist perspectives from being considered as effective tools to make our food system better. Technology is not considered an enemy, but rather a possible collaborator, even when it is not necessarily at the center of Gruijters’s work.

The volume follows a well-proven approach: an issue in food systems is identified and discussed, and then Gruijers’s projects dealing with it – directly or indirectly – are presented, illustrated by photographs of events and objects. Among the topics, we read about seaweeds, flowers and insects as underused sources of nutrition, proteins from plants, the need for surplus reduction in Western food production, obesity and health. While the narrative structure is quite effective in introducing many hot topics, the authors do not claim to have any final solution. They are actually quite self-reflective about it, musing: “Another weakness in some of our prophecies is that they themselves can cause changes. They can enhance conditions or hamper them.” Debating the future is, in fact, highly political.

Changing the way people eat, their preferences and their outlook is not supposed to be easy. Food design is not about coming up with quick fixes. Van Hinte and Gruijters underline that “it is important for designers and food providers to be aware that their work is never a one shot deal, certainly not when it comes to ecological interventions. Balance is not a fixed state.” However, looking for viable solutions does not necessarily mean renouncing pleasure. “The new field of food design is emerging as a way to shed light on the development of food values in terms of nutrition, enjoyment, and seductiveness to all the senses.”

Food waste inevitably looms large in the pages of the book. It has emerged as one of the most glaring problems in post-industrial societies, becoming increasingly unacceptable in terms of food justice, environmental impact, and long-term sustainability. For that reason, at The New School we decided to partner with the Institute of Culinary Education to organize Zero Waste Food, a two-day conference that will take place on April 28 and 29 in New York City. Aspiring to bridge the separation between theory and practice, the conference will connect academics with practitioners, designers, chefs, and the business sector through panels and hands-on application. We are particularly looking forward to the keynote address by Massimo Bottura, whose restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, reached the no. 1 position on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and whose non-profit Food for Soul aims to empower communities to fight food waste through social inclusion.