The Power of Gastronomy to Transform Social Realities

September 22, 2016

Chefs Sumito Estévez, Michelangelo Cestari, and Brian MacNair are taking an innovative approach to addressing the economic and social development issues in Latin America. Speaking at the Annual Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) Conference, in Washington, DC, they told their story of changing Latin America by using one of its best kept secrets: food!

Dish of food from Guatemala's Western Highlands

Chef Estévez created the Culinary and Tourism Institute of the Caribbean (ICTC) in Isla Margarita, Venezuela. Wanting to build people’s self-esteem through business and culinary training, he says his school promotes tourism and culture, and creates a local market for agricultural products.

Chef Cestari runs the Manq’a Melting Pot project in Bolivia, which provides culinary training to economically vulnerable youth. Taking it beyond recipes, pots and pans, participants are also trained in entrepreneurship, nutrition, and ethics.

Chef MacNair’s World Central Kitchen, ‘looks for smart solutions to hunger and poverty.’ In a little under four years, he and partner Chef Jose Andres have built a network of over 70-renowned chefs in communities in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua. By establishing culinary schools with job placement programs, they are incentivizing aspiring gastronomists while making it easier for them to enter into the tourism and hospitality sectors.

During the discussion, each stressed the role gastronomy can play in strengthening local economies. By using products grown and sold locally, these up and coming chefs create unique dishes with local flavor and without reliance on international supply chains. It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking that feeds so much of Counterpart’s work with communities in Guatemala.

In 2012, we began investing in local fisherman, farmers, and goat herders, because, as Chef MacNair points out, ‘the future of a nation depends on how it feeds itself.’ But it can also depend on the opportunities that come from food. In a little over 4 years, Counterpart’s Food for Progress team has reached nearly 30,000 rural families by hosting public workshops focused on drought resistant agriculture techniques, sustainable farming practices, product marketing, and so much more. By delivering this knowledge and tools to the Guatemala’s most neglected communities, we are seeing food transform local economies and social realities.

As an amateur chef and passionate humanitarian, I find the work these chefs are doing inspiring and creative. Prior to my work at Counterpart, it was hard for me to imagine food as a catalyst for change. I had previously seen it is as one of life’s greatest pleasures or simply as daily fuel. But these chefs and our work have proved otherwise. By thinking outside of the box, we have proved that food is a catalyst for social change. Buen Provecho!

What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

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