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Top Chef Turns Olympic Food Waste Into Meals For The Homeless

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  The Olympic Rings are seen on local beach on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Marina da Gloria on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

As absorbing and enthralling the Rio Olympics is – we’ll all have some serious TV habits to kick once it’s over – you can’t help but feel that the whole thing is a little … tainted. It’s hard to enjoy the biggest sporting moments on the world stage with all the negative news that’s poured out around the Games. The Rio favelas bulldozed to make way for the stadiums; the Russian doping scandal and, let’s face it, the Olympic committee’s failure to conclusively deal with it, the continued questions over doping across all sports, and the high crime levels in Rio, with some of the American swimming team robbed at gunpoint just this weekend. All rather depressing notes to what has so far been an enjoyable Olympics.

But it seems that there’s also a good news story coming out of the Brazilian capital. Italian chef Massimo Bottura heard about the meals prepped for the 18,000 athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers (that’s 250 tons of food per meal) and was inspired. Not to cook up the finest dishes for the gold medalists but instead use the food that would likely go to waste in the Olympic village and feed Rio’s homeless population. Naming it Refettorio Gastromotiva meaning restore and recuperate both people and food, Bottura hopes to draw attention not only to the homeless who have been barred from their usual stretch on the Copacabana Beach but also raise awareness about food wastage.


“This is not just a charity; it’s not just about feeding people,” Mr. Bottura told the New York Times, “this is about social inclusion, teaching people about food waste and giving hope to people who have lost all hope.”

Built in a vacant lot in the poor neighbourhood of Lapa in just 55 days, it’s no high-end kitchen with problems over electricity, gas shortages, and food considered ‘past’ its use-by date. But since opening on Wednesday, national and international chefs from around the world have signed up to cook meals for approximately 70 homeless people every evening, along with food donations and voluntary servers, including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. And this is no pop-up either. Bottura hopes to keep this going after the games, feeding paying customers and using the income to in turn feed 108 homeless every night.

Mr. Conceição, who usually scavenges on the beach for food, told the New York Times, “these guys, they shake your hand and they treat you like you’re a boss. I thought I was dreaming and told my wife to pinch me. But it wasn’t a dream.”

Finally, some positive, long-term change coming out of a fraught and polarising Olympic Games.

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