Food seems like an unlikely ingredient for cultural transformation (read discipling). But it clearly is.
In a time when the Right seems hellbent on raping the planet and the Left is fixated on “climate change” there is a sane middle. There are voices speaking and hands working in their own communities and disciplines. There are people living out a different paradigm, i.e. human stewardship of the creation.
Pastor Luke, in the Soweto slum of Nairobi, Kenya, has empowered young, impoverished Kenyans to see garbage as a resource. He has taught them to steward the slum where they live. These young people have been cleaning up their community, recycling glass, metal, bone, plastic, cardboard and paper. He has taught them to collect the vegetable waste from the green markets in the slums and compost it to become a resource for Kenyan farmers.
Pastor Luke has shown these youth the gold in the garbage. Not only are they improving the environment where they live, they are turning waste into resources. They were unemployed and penniless; now they have created work for themselves. Now they have income.
Then there is the story of Favio Chavez and the Recycled Orchestra. Chavez understands that both trash and so-called “throwaway children” have real value. Garbage has been recycled to make musical instruments and the children of the dump have learned to create beautiful music for the world.
Recently we learned of another innovator, Massimo Bottura, who owns and runs the Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. The restaurant is rated second in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants by Restaurant magazine in 2015.
The link between a world-class chef and poverty may not be immediately obvious. But stay with me.
Today we produce enough food to feed the world’s 7.3 billion people. In addition, technologies are being developed that will increase food production on today’s farmlands. And huge tracts of arable land are available which have never been under cultivation.
Nevertheless, according to UN statistics, 795 million people (over 10% of the world’s population) are hungry.
How can this be?
There are many reasons. One is food waste. A 2013 UN report reveals that 550,000,000 tons of food are discarded by consumers, markets, and distributors each year. Some of this food has “expired,” some is “blemished,” and some is perfectly good.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary reminds us that “to waste” is “to destroy wantonly or luxuriously; to squander; to cause to be lost through wantonness or negligence.”
We need to improve the vision. Our goal should be that nothing is “waste.” Everything can become a resource, reclaimed or recycled. Nothing is to be squandered. The resources God has given us—human resources, and natural resources, yes, including food—are to be cherished and cultivated to reach their God-given potential.
Food is part of the resources from God’s creation
Into this world of great potential and enormous waste comes the conscience and creativity of one of the world’s great chef’s, Massimo Bottura.
Bottura has long been concerned about how he might help the poor in his city. How might he use what is normally considered waste to create quality food for the hungry in his own city?
He began to search for answers to these questions, working with a local Catholic charity, Caritas Ambrosian. That search led to the conversion of an old theater into the Refettorio Ambrosia, what journalist Ryan King calls “the Zero Waste Soup Kitchen.”
The Refettorio Ambrosiano. Quite possibly the best restaurant in Milan right now and the only one that’s not accepting bookings, ever!
“The truck arrives every morning”, explains the Italian chef Massimo Bottura as we stand at the back of the large dining hall. “The chefs take a look inside and decide what they want to use for that day but we start by looking at what can be used from the day before because we really don’t want to waste anything!” He’s talking me through his latest project, The Refettorio Ambrosiano, a professional soup kitchen inside a redesigned church in Milan. A fully operating kitchen started as part of Expo Milano 2015, a place to feed children, homeless people and groups of refugees. People genuinely in need of a good plate of nutritious food.
Bottura is one of the world’s most awarded chefs, in part because he is a visionary. He has a socially responsible vision for his own life and a vision to see how food culture can be transformed. In addition to his own restaurant and “soup kitchen” he uses his kitchen and his art to inspire both his peers and younger chefs. He wants to launch a movement to change how we understand food, poverty, and our own stewardship to change the world one kitchen, one cook at a time.
“It’s so important that this spreads, says Bottura, “planting seeds and waiting until they sprout, one here, one there, you know, they’re going to build maybe a new tradition. If one is opened in New York, one in London, one in Lima. People came here and they understood exactly what we are talking about, it’s the social part of what we do – we move the spotlights we have on us all the time to illuminate other things.”
Bottura wants to see other chefs infected with the bug, “it’s not charity, it’s a cultural thing”, he keeps repeating, he wants to spread a message ….
Perhaps Bottura sums it up best when he says: “These are the things that fill you up with humanity and genuine feeling … cooking is about love. It’s about getting the chefs involved to make the invisible visible. About putting our knowledge and using our knowledge of ingredients to fight against waste. This is going to be the example for many other chefs.
If you’re ready to learn from Bottura’s vision you can begin with simple actions:
- Do not take more food than you should eat.
- Eat leftovers, those from home and from dining out.
- Find creative ways to use leftovers.
- My wife, Marilyn uses chicken bones to make stock as the base of delicious soups.
- One of our dear friends, a food artist and chef in her own right, uses leftover vegetables to create stock for the base of some of the best meals I’ve ever had.
- Compost your green waste to improve the soil in your vegetable garden.
- Join with groups that are thinking in new paradigms about food:
– Darrow Miller