Food has always been my passion, but it only became the guideline of my life when I was twenty-eight. Before that, I lived my life searching for my true potential. I was really lucky to take part in Brazil’s first professional chef’s training in 2000. This is really recent, this culture in Brazil. As I was constantly in the deep process of transforming ingredients, I learned how to be organized, committed, confident. But what I got the most out of it, is by interacting with people you learn so much about yourself and about your values, such as trust, generosity, cooperation.
In 2004, after working for more than ten years as a cook, I visited a favela for the first time. I saw in cooking a way to train people, and so I offered a vocational training program in a local institution. In that same year, I was invited to the Youth Employment Network Conference, a partnership between the UN, ILO, and the World Bank, to speak about what we were supposed to do in the next year in Brazil.
But then I had a vision. The potential for food not only to train people and employ, but to create social cohesion and a healing force for people and communities in troubled situations. I have been working to promote social gastronomy for eleven years as a chef and as a social entrepreneur. I dedicate my life to turning gastronomy into one of the most powerful tools to empower the marginalized and create bridges between different social realities.
Recognitions and nominations such as an Ashoka fellowship and a TED fellowship, as well as being nominated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum proved to me that the impact of our work in Brazil is being noticed on an international level.
This all led me to this important moment at the World Bank, where I’m now sharing my vision on cooking as a driver of change in the world with all of you. It was in a WEF meeting in Myanmar when I had one of the most insightful experiences. To contribute with a positive impact on the fast economic growth in effect in the country, we gathered over fifty leaders and chefs, and global leaders, to rethink about the effect in the country of the economic growth, but with the hospitality market, and build a food vision of social change and sustainability
After Aung San Suu Kyi heard about our work, she defined how food value change could really affect her country positively. When you value the food chain, buying local ingredients, you help villages to have a sustainable income. You preserve traditions. You develop culinary skills and attract tourists with an authentic and local cuisine. That day, I had the clear response that I am about to share here: it works anywhere.
But you must be asking, how can we do it? I want to [?] the experience I’ve been doing in Brazil. But first of all, I want to talk about the experience of the my first trainee, where I learned the most out of it. In 2004, I met Uridéia She was nineteen years old. She came from a dysfunctional family and didn’t believe in her potential. She was jobless and had little in skills. She dreamt of having the same rights and opportunities as me or the middle class Brazilians of the wealthy Brazilians.
So, imagine living in a place where 53% of the population had already felt hunger, and 3⁄4 of the inhabitants consider it violent. Fear and prejudice are everywhere. The place where the state has almost no rules. It’s ruled by drug trafficking. But there are tremendous challenges, as all of us in this room are aware. But there is also huge opportunity. We eat three times a day. In America, 50% of the people who live here eat outside their houses. In Brazil, it’s going towards that. One third of the population eat out of their homes.
Only in my city, São Paulo, there are forty-four thousand formal food establishments such as restaurants, pizzerias, churrascarias, employing eight hundred thousand people. Twenty percent of the economic active population, aged between twenty and thirty-nine. And the main complaint of all the restaurant owners and chefs is how we get trained people. Therefore, there is a very relevant market that can offer solutions of formal employment, but there is a need of accessible training. Considering the gaps in education, the opportunity in the market, and my dream of a more equitable society, I thought, “What if I get people like Uridéia to become involved with cooking? What if through cooking, they can become what they are meant to be?”
With that goal in mind I cofounded an organization to be the foundation for the social gastronomic movement. Gastromotiva offers free culinary programs for unprivileged young people who have zero opportunities, most of the time don’t even have money for transportation. Our vocational training focuses not only on technique skills, but also the awareness and the connection between man and nature, as well as developing entrepreneurship, leadership, therefore empowerment.
In seven years, we’ve trained over twelve hundred of these very talented young people. They are now all employed in formal kitchen jobs. We are partners with more than seventy restaurant owners and chefs who guarantee the jobs. All of them get out employed, and 90% after two years are still building their careers in the restaurants. This year alone, our goal is to train a thousand trainees in four different cities by partnering with other state governments and Brazil’s most prestigious chef Alex Atala, we are able now to scale this project to prisons, and also to jobless immigrants who are arriving from other places from South America such as Peru and Bolivia.
We use peer-to-peer education to apply to multiply the social technology. Our trainees become the teachers. They are teaching in the prisons, encouraging them to become independent, with a critical mind to solve problems, working as a team, and being oriented towards others. Last year, they were able to train also in their communities, through workshops, thirty thousand people. What are trainees teaching? How to cook. The importance of food to the nutrition and well-being of their families.
So, after listening to the ideas discussed previously this session, I want to reclaim the power of cooking. Why is cooking so important to feed nine billion people? Over the last decade, we have felt the responsibility on food. We left the responsibility of the food we eat to the industry. And to bring back cooking to the core of our activities in the future, we need to look beyond the obvious.
When our trainees go back to their communities, they take with them a holistic cooking concept: when you cook, you eat and live better. You take responsibility for your health while learning how to use fresh ingredients, the ones that are better for us and for the planet. In the same process, cooking helps us understand the value chain of food, and how choices can create a positive impact and environmental impact. Cooking expresses our culture and gives us an opportunity to learn about others. Through cooking, we preserve ancient wisdom, tradition, and respect for one another. And we are teaching mothers how to feed wisely their children. Since they are the future adults who will make the right consumption choices, our trainees understand the [urgency?] of the subject, and they have taught us, and they have chosen 2015 to be year of the children in food education in Gastromotiva.
We believe cooking’s the fastest, strongest, and most effective way to transform people. It can be done anywhere. It can be done in a short time. There are kitchens everywhere. Chefs are inspired to have additional purpose through that hard work. You are witnessing a new movement arise, a social gastronomic movement. So, our model can be replicated anywhere, but that’s still a dream. What we really want is to promote discussions, debates, in every sector of society. We are committing to exchange knowledge and multiply this concept. I’m here to ask you to help us to create a social gastronomic forum and commit ourselves to this movement as part of the future of food.
Scene Uridéia joined us, she has become a mother and an entrepreneur, employing more than twenty people a month with her catering company. She became an inspiration to all communities. She found a place of love and acceptance deep in her heart. And no difficulties can take away her commitment to live her life with joy and pride.
Everyone has the right to dream about a life project, and the potential to involve a community continuously. If given the right tools to progress, with collaboration and encouragement, the professionals from the hospitality market are becoming engaged with the power of cooking, and connected with marginalized communities. This is the transcendence of this movement. It goes beyond one meal, one kitchen, or one Michelin star. In the end, food is for people.
Overview page for the MAD at the World Bank: “The Future of Food” event.