Charity, Gastronomy and Multitasking

 

We are in Rio and 18 000 athletes and their Olympic entourage need to be fed, three times a day. I have no idea of the dietary needs of the athletes. Does Usain Bolt go to his nearby canteen and grab a turkey sandwich, joining Michael Phelps who is having a spaghetti bolognese? Does Nafissatou Thiam (Rio 2016 Gold Medal heptathlon for Belgium – just saying) ask for a chicken salad, then caves and orders a side order of onion rings and fries? Are there onion rings and fries? Is there sourdough? Baguette? Full fat yoghurt? Skinny lattes? Veggie burgers?

Whatever there is, it is not all consumed and Mr. Massimo Bottura does not like this. He has therefore taken the high road from Modena where his multi starred restaurant Osteria Francescana is located, to Rio where he decided to make a difference. A meal, made from donated, unused ingredients, for 70 homeless people. Good on him.

Bottura is not alone. Juan Roca, Alain Ducasse, Alex Atala and many more have joined. And meanwhile, in collaboration with Brazilian chef David Hertz’s nonprofit organization Gastromotiva, the RefettoRio Gastromotiva is born. A project hopefully to stay, feeding the poor, the needy, the hungry.

Culinary philanthropy and social gastronomy are nothing new. Jamie Oliver did something similar, Milan’s Refettorio Ambrosiano (also Bottura) is still up and going, scholarships, give-back initiatives, … celebrities join in, politicians show their support, designers design for free, the pope gives his blessing.

It is true. We waste too much food. We are overfed. The world is unfair.

Enter the beautiful world of charity.

One needs not be cynical when it concerns charity. Voluntarily helping those in need is a humanitarian act. It is a duty in all religions. Charity takes on many forms. Giving money, making donations, sharing knowledge, dedicating time.

But when to be charitable?

According the Olympic Games to a particular country and town is, as always, a political choice. Committees, lobbyist, I will not mention the unmentionable. But where ever the Games go to, we should not pretend to suddenly wake up to an unknown reality. The favelas in Rio did not appear overnight. The displacement of citizens, new police strategies, changes in law enforcement, it was all to be expected. After all, there are many versions of Rio de Janeiro.

Soon however, the Games will be over. The question then is, which version of Rio will survive?

Crying ‘shame’ and showing a few minutes of ‘social’ coverage is all very well, making a fashionable entry and proclaim your affiliation with a good cause or viewpoint, why not? But the structural needs for change, beyond charity, are all too soon forgotten. And up to the next hotspot we move.

As for Mr. Bottura. He is a talented chef and I am – I am honest – regretful. A bit bitter perhaps. Living at a merely 250 km from Modena, I have missed the Bottura boat. I could, I should have gone to his Osteria, before the multiple awards. I should have made the effort and book a table. Lead, not lag! But, as I said, that ship has sailed. I missed the Osteria, when prices were still affordable, when tables were still obtainable, when Bottura was still in his kitchen.

Bottura has a charitable organization. He has a charitable vision. A plan. He wants to share his good fortune. He is a good man. But he is no longer in his kitchen.

For whoever now books a table at his Osteria, it will be his talented second in command who will cook the food Bottura has invented. And in a way, now snubs.

It is difficult to please everybody. And when one’s intentions are good, why complain? Well, perhaps because, as long as we stay in the realm of the charitable, certain issues, despite all good motives, are not raised. Targeting symptoms, not causes. The unclear distinction between charity, justice and injustice. Who assesses the efficiency of the charity in question? Who benefits from it?

Feeding people is a noble act. Feeding the hungry is virtuous. Taking time out to help your fellow man is admirable. But multitasking is difficult and choosing between our multiple interests, plural philosophical views and ultimately, daily actions and occupations is a different matter. In the end, something always has to give.

As for Bottura, he does not like waste. Perhaps it was written, not in the stars but at least in his menu. Who else could come up with

oops

Oops I dropped the lemon pie!