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Why I Ate Food Waste in Davos

I went to Davos and all I got to eat was a plate of waste.

Seriously.

There were lentils from broken packages headed for the garbage, browning carrots, and potatoes that were growing sprouts, all cooked in a giant cauldron over a fire built on top of a snow bank. It was pretty good. Others seemed to agree. All 1,000 plates were consumed.

The World Economic Forum, the conference being held this week in Davos, Switzerland that attracts CEOs and world leaders, has a reputation, only partly deserved, as being a party for global elite. But for most of the people who attend and are not at the top of Davos’ high-altitude food chain, the days are filled with meetings and panel discussions and very little food.

Shots of juice in the morning. A scoop of risotto for lunch. The tiny portions go quick. (I know, the violin playing is just as small.)

This year one non-profit is taking advantage of the weeklong starvation of the global elite to teach the confab with a reputation for excess how the world can better use everyday excess.

Gastromotiva is a Brazilian non-profit focused on hunger issues. It’s been around for 10 years, mostly teaching culinary skills in its home country to former convicts and homeless, and others who find the on ramp to the job market tough. But in the past year, it has launched an effort to repurpose food that has been destined for the dump, and resell it. So far, Gastromotiva has “recycled” granola and a jam, as well as dried banana snacks. They are shriveled and black. Gastromotiva’s CEO Nicola Gryczka says the group targeted bananas specifically.

“It ranks as the world’s No. 1 most wasted food,” Gryczka says.

The point is to raise awareness of food waste, or food surplus, as Gryczka calls it. The organization is also collecting unsold or uncooked food from restaurants in Rio that would normally go used. Gryczka says figuring out how to divert food waste from the dump to populations in need could be a significant victory in the war on hunger.

In Davos, Gastromotiva set up a cookout outside a church on the promenade that runs from the Congress Centre, where WEF is held to the restaurants and hotels where many of the morning power breakfasts and late-night soirées are held. For the past few years the ski town’s normal shops have been taken over by corporations trying to advertise to the global elite. Gastromotiva’s cauldron is down the street from the outposts of Palantir, Facebook, and Salesforce.

On the day I went to the cookout they were serving a Nepalese stew. It tasted as good as new food. All the food waste, including nearly 500 pounds of old potatoes, came from Zurich. And Gryczka says it was all consumed. Food waste is being put on the front burner lately. Chef (and famously short-tempered television cooking star) Gordon Ramsay this week announced that he is going to serve up normally discarded ingredients at a pop-up restaurant in London.

At Davos this week, global bank UBS announced an effort to try to funnel more private investment into organizations that are focused on improving the world. From connections made at Davos—part of the WEF’s mission is to promote groups that are focused on solving global issues like hunger—Gastromotiva is one of the non-profits that have been chosen in the first round of the UBS’s efforts.

Gastromotiva isn’t just calling attention to hunger issues at Davos—it’s also attracting capital.

UBS has not yet figured out how it will structure the investment in the non-profit. But it will probably be like social impact bonds. Gryczka says the company’s new reused food products do not yet break even for the non-profit. UBS says they hope to set a structure for the deal by the end of the second quarter of the year.