Food for Soul

…[Food waste] is foremost an affront to the hungry, but it also represents a massive environmental cost in terms of energy, land, and water. Those who grow for export are also often at the mercy of over-stringent expectations of buyers who place a premium on cosmetic perfection. – “Think. Eat. Save: Reduce Your Foodprint”, UN Secretary-General’s 2013 message on World Environment Day

Before I leave the world of Chef Massimo Bottura, I want to cover Food for Soul. Those of you who follow the UPROOTED Facebook page (and if you don’t, check it out) may recall that I often share postings about Food for Soul.  You may wonder, just what is it? Let me enlighten you:

There are nearly 800 million hungry people in this world, yet enough food is produced right now to nourish everyone. Tragically, over a third of the world’s food [valued at € 8.7 billion in Italy alone] is wasted, ending up in landfills instead of on tables. Each year, the death toll from hunger related issues exceeds that of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, and malnutrition is an underlying cause for approximately 45% of all deaths for children under the age of five. At the same time, food discarded in landfills breaks down very quickly and produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with over 20 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide. If food waste was a country, it would be the third highest contributor of greenhouse gasses behind the United States and China. –  “Hunger in a World of Plenty”, The Global FoodBanking Network

Food for Soul is a non-profit organization founded by Chef Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), which fights food waste in support of social inclusion and individual well-being. The goal is to create and sustain community kitchens around the world by bringing together both public and private organizations with professionals that include chefs, artisans, food suppliers, artists, and designers. They source quality and in-date ingredients, which are perfectly edible but would otherwise, go to waste. The food products are then transformed into delicious and nutritious multi-course meals.

High-profile chefs are invited to offer their skills and know-how, helping to raise awareness of the value of food. Well known architects and interior designers are tasked to voluntarily design and build dining spaces which are infused with art, design, and beauty to engage the guests (who include individuals and families in situations of food poverty, food insecurity and social vulnerability) in a holistic approach to nourishment – feed the body and the soul. Food, art, and creativity are a universal language. The finished spaces, although often located in less than desirable neighborhoods, would not be out of place in the best buildings of Paris, London or New York.

In 2014 Chef Bottura had the idea to contribute to Milan’s Universal Exposition (Expo 2015- “Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life”) with a project that addressed the dual issue of food wastage and hunger. His concept was to reinterpret an iconic church refectory, where monks once gathered for their meals, and turn it into a dining hall for the city’s neediest but cooking with ingredients from the edible waste generated by the Expo.

Teatro Greco, Milan

The Catholic Church donated Teatro Greco, an abandoned theatre from the 1930s located behind the central train station. After a 6-month renovation, it became a light-filled space equipped with a professional kitchen and an ample dining room for 96 guests.

Refettorio Ambrosiano Dining Room

Refettorio Ambrosiano Kitchen

The project was named Refettorio Ambrosiano. “Refettorio” comes from the Latin “reficĕre” which means to restore. “Caritas Ambrosiana,” (a social reintegration program) was chosen to in manage the effort. It, therefore, became Refettorio Ambrosiano.

Generous donations from Milan’s most renowned architects, designers, and furniture companies assured that the dining hall would serve not only to feed the body but also to nourish the soul. Among many others, the design professionals included Mario Bellini, Antonio Citterio, Piero Lissoni, and Patricia Urquiola. Artists Carlo Benvenuto, Enzo Cucchi, Maurizio Nannucci, and Mimmo Palladino donated original artwork.

“No More Excuses” neon art piece by Maurizio Nannucci

No More Excuses, a neon piece by artist Nannucci lines the exterior of the building and became the theme for the months that followed. Lighting and furniture sponsors (including Riva 1920, Kartell, Artemide, Poliform, and Alessi) donated essential elements. Lavazza sponsored the kitchen design. San Pellegrino helped with the travel logistics for the visiting chefs.

Chef Bottura invited over 60 world-class guest chefs (including Ferran and Albert Adrià, Mario Batali, Juan Mari Arzak, Alain Ducasse, Daniel Humm, Daniel Patterson, Rene Redzepi, and Ana Ros) to Milan to share their ideas and recipes using re-purposed ingredients from banana peels to day old bread. Together they cooked 150 meals per day with the kitchen staff and numerous volunteers who dedicated their time and energy over the 5-month period.

From May 28th to October 31st, the Refettorio Ambrosiano served lunch for neighboring school children and dinner for homeless residents from numerous homeless shelters in the area. They accomplished this by using ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away. During the 5-month period, 15 tons of food waste from the Supermarket of the Future (from the Coop pavilion in Expo), were salvaged and turned into healthy and delicious meals. Fortunately, the Refettorio Ambrosiano project did not end there. Under the governance of Caritas Ambrosiana, it continues to run the community kitchen with donations and leftovers from supermarkets around Milan.

Refettorio Gastromotiva, Rio de Janero

After the successful experience of Refettorio Ambrosiano, Food for Soul replicated the same stream of synergies during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. In August 2016, Refettorio Gastromotiva opened and with more than 80 Brazilian and international chefs, 3.000 free meals were served from the opening of the Olympics through the end of the Paralympics. Even after the Games, Refettorio Gastromotiva works as a soup kitchen for homeless people and as a center for vocational training for young people from the neighborhood.

Refettorio Felix, London

Food for Soul partnered with London’s food waste/food poverty charity The Felix Project to launch Refettorio Felix in time for the London Food Month festival (June 2017). The goal, to serve more than 2,000 meals utilized five tons of recovered food supplied by The Felix Project. The Refettorio provided lunch from Monday to Friday for the homeless and other vulnerable groups.

More than 30 leading British and international chefs accepted the call to action from Massimo Bottura to cook in the Refettorio. Their expertise helped turn surplus ingredients into delicious menus. “Chefs have risen to celebrity heights,” Chef Bottura commented. “I believe we, chefs, can reflect these lights to illuminate the most pressing issues facing society today. Cooking is a call to act.”

Food for Soul plans additional projects in Italy and all over the world, by reaching the cities of Berlin, Paris, and Turin. Plans for similar projects in the US are also afoot with Food for Soul the recent recipient of a six figure grant from The Rockefeller Foundation. Learn more at Food for Soul (click here).

All images are courtesy of Food for Soul.

8 thoughts on “Food for Soul

  1. Now this is very interesting to know about. Having gone vegan this year and a meat and dairy lover going way back to infancy, it’s been a ‘learning’ experience to read about the love of southern and Italian style cured hams and such this year. I love food and love the blog. No, I’m not drooling over the photos right now. The blog and world of food is about the appreciation and love of life and pleasure as seen through the eyes of a foodie, sharing the bounty on all levels from nutrition to people and community. Job well done as always Walt!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ted. I thought more people should know about the effort that some of the world’s major chefs are doing to combat world hunger. The fact that Chef Bottura takes it a step further to engage the soul is exemplary.


  2. Thanks for the enlightening post Walt.

    Hopefully one day soon this will be the norm. Hunger should be non existent on our bountiful planet. Now if we can learn to take good care of her and ourselves we will have really accomplished something !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Due to regulations in the United States many outlets that could provide food for the hungry or not allowed to do so. For example an elementary school kitchen that has leftovers cannot donate them to the local homeless shelter. Those are foodstuffs that have been paid for, in some cases federal subsidies, and we as a culture insist that it’s better to have it thrown out then given to people who could use it. Sad commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, Jennifer. I agree with your observation. Most of the European Union countries have enacted ordinances to make it easier to donate food that is not considered marketable. France, in fact, has passed a law that makes it illegal for grocery stores to discard usable foods. The US has a way to go.


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