From memories of that first bite into a ripe tomato lovingly plucked from the vine by your grandmother, to celebrating a milestone birthday at a restaurant where the velouté sauce is so flavourful it immediately transports you to the lavender fields of Provençal, it’s hard to ignore how central food is to our lives and culture. Yet we’re still living in a world where one-third of the food we produce – 1.3 billion tonnes – is wasted, and most of that waste occurs within the food production chain. Every single day 815 million people - one in nine of us - go hungry. The Social Gastronomy Movement (SGM) is providing real solutions to these issues by leveraging the power of food to address social inequality, improve nutrition education, eliminate food waste and create local jobs.

What is social gastronomy?

The concept of social gastronomy has been around for a long time. Food journalist Ryan King, who participated in our recent SGM meeting in Miami, believes the earliest reference dates back to 1903 and “referred to the idea of different social classes dining together at the table”. This definition still rings true for many involved in the current incarnation of the movement. We see it as an inclusive vision of the relationship between kitchen and people, a way of serving others that respects the environment and reflects the culture as well as an opportunity to live in a future that is zero hunger and zero waste.

Today, thousands of projects around the globe are embodying the spirit of the SGM and are finding common ground under the social gastronomy umbrella. The movement began with the work of Young Global Leader David Hertz, a Brazilian chef who founded Gastromotiva in 2006 to inspire and empower the socially vulnerable by providing vocational kitchen training, food entrepreneurship courses and nutrition education to help those at the margins of society find a way out of the urban slums. Today, believers from around the world are engaged, and other chefs such as Gaston Acurio in Peru and Claus Meyer in Denmark have brought their kitchen wizardry to those without hope or a future, while in the UK Jamie Oliver is very publicly committed to health and the nutrition of children. Massimo Bottura, who was famously voted the best chef in the world, is using his talent and position to address food waste while also feeding the poor through his Refettorio concept. As Bottura says: “Cooking is an act of love, cooking is a call to action.”

The Social Gastronomy Movement today

The SGM was officially announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018 by David Hertz and Devry Boughner Vorwerk, corporate vice president global corporate affairs at Cargill and has since been growing rapidly.

Chefs, of course, are central to SGM’s mission. As food is fast becoming the new medium for social activism, chefs around the globe are using their kitchens to create a platform for social advocacy. They are also partnering with the United Nations to promote greater awareness of the challenges to the global food system, and to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 to end world hunger by 2030.

Connecting the world’s chefs, social activists and stakeholders

As a first step, SGM aims to connect chefs, stakeholders and projects through two important tools - social gastronomy hubs and an online platform.

Social gastronomy hubs are physical spaces for inspiration and innovation. The hubs will be piloted in Rio de Janeiro, New York, Santiago, London, Zurich and Phnom Penh.

Each hub will be powered by a social entrepreneur and will define its own guidelines to better represent the local community’s needs. Each hub is financially independent and collaborates with other social gastronomy entrepreneurs to promote and enhance the movement’s. The hubs will be launched officially at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos in January 2019.

The online platform will help to take the local global by creating networks and community on a hitherto unprecedented scale. In the spirit of network and connection it is being designed and developed by member of the Young Global Leaders community, Lucian Tarnowski from BraveNew. The SGM is currently mapping social gastronomy projects around the world and will soon launch its Online Platform giving access to a global network of projects, facilitating communication and exchange between hundreds of social entrepreneurs, developing social gastronomy and increasing the Movement’s impact and community reach.

As Georges Schnyder, president of Slow Foods Brazil, puts it: “Social gastronomy is a tool to help people live better and be included in society. It’s a political tool… something very powerful for a better world.”

It is clear we are seeing a new global conversation emerge around food that addresses the economic, environmental and social issues underpinning the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The SGM is helping all those involved in this conversation to leverage their talents, gifts, experience and networks to translate their passion from the micro-level to the macro, global level.

As Rafael Rincón, gastronomic entrepreneur & founder of Ñam, said of a recent meeting of SGM stakeholders: “It was the necessary starting point for the change that unites us all, the reality of a gastronomy that can change the world.” While we may half-jokingly affirm that tasting the velouté sauce was a life-changing experience, the SGM is ensuring that access to food will literally change the lives of millions of people around the world, and this is just the beginning.