Could Olympic food waste help Rio's residents?

A project launched by two chefs – one Italian, one Brazilian – aims to take wasted food from the Olympic Village and turn it into a long-term meal program for local residents.

Jeremy Lee/Reuters
The Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, photographed during a media tour on Aug. 4. A initiative started by two chefs aims to take wasted food from the Olympic Village and turn it into meals for Rio's hungry population, with the city providing space for the project for the next ten years.

When athletes sit down to a meal at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro this week, they may be unknowingly aiding an effort to help local residents, long after the glitz and glamour of the Olympics have vanished. 

In an effort to reduce food waste, RefettoRio Gastromotiva, a project begun by two chefs, will turn excess food from the catering company that feeds the Olympic Village into meals for Rio’s hungry population, prepared by a team of international chefs.

The project aims to strike at a wealth divide highlighted by Rio’s hosting of the Olympic Games, raising questions about whether the longterm benefits of the event, such as improved public transit in some parts of the city, will trickle down to residents in neighborhoods who continue to struggle with high crime rates, rising rents, and increasing evictions.

These are the exclusion Games,” Cosme Vinícius Felippsen, a sweets seller and tour guide in Morro da Providência, Rio’s oldest favela, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week. Providência overlooks Rio’s port, recently overhauled for the Olympics, including the addition of a cable car along the cliff-side neighborhood.

While city officials have often cited increased public transit use as a victory, Mr. Felippsen says that residents’ needs were even more basic. “We wanted schools and basic sanitation,” he said.

The food waste project, begun by Italian chef Massimo Bottura and Brazilian chef David Hertz, aims to “offer food and dignity to people in situations of social vulnerability,” says a statement released by the City of Rio, which is providing a building the group will use in the city center.

The project mirrors several efforts around the globe, including in Italy, Kenya, and the United States, by nonprofits that aim to turn wasted food from restaurants, homes, and supermarkets into usable meals and raw ingredients for families often unable to afford them.

Concerns that between 30 and 40 percent of all food produced around the world is wasted because it is thrown away or spoils during transportation have sparked a slew of policies to combat food waste. Meanwhile, about 800 million people across the globe go hungry every night, according to United Nations figures.

Combining national standards to reduce food waste – such as one recently approved in Italy – with efforts such as the RefettoRio reuse initiative could have a large impact, some hope. 

“Maybe the impact from one of these nonprofits that are picking up some excess food and donating it is small on its own, but it's really one of the only ways to go about addressing this sort of waste right now," Brian Lipinski, a food program associate at the World Resources Initiative, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation.

The city of Rio is providing the building to RefettoRio Gastromotiva for the next ten years in the hopes that its impact could be longer-lasting. RefettoRio is modeled on Mr. Bottura’s Refetterio Ambrosiano, a program where 65 international chefs made meals using food that would have gone to waste during the Milan World Expo last year, ABC reports.

Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, has staunchly defended the economic impact of the games as benefiting all residents. "It's crazy to say there is no investment in poor areas," he told The Guardian. "If people say this, then they don’t know the geography [of the city]."

But members of the Sports and Rights Alliance (SRA), a coalition of human rights advocates and nongovernmental organizations, say that future Olympics cities need to better prioritize human rights to avoid the missed opportunities like Rio's.

“The Olympic values and ideals ... need to be implemented in the structure of the IOC contracts so that they do no harm,” Andrea Florence, a lawyer for SRA member Terre des Hommes, told the Monitor. “It is time they move it forward and really implement those principles.”

This report includes material from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Could Olympic food waste help Rio's residents?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today