The global fight for nutrition for all

The athletes who will perform at the Rio 2016 Olympics will be at the peak of their physical prowess. As I can bear witness having watched the British Olympians go through their final training last weekend, there is not a hint of fat on them. I felt so self-conscious I thought I should start running again.

That peak is a long way from the reality of the more than 840 million people who do not have enough food to eat, the 159 million children who are too short for their age or chronically malnourished, and the 50 million children who are too thin for their height and at risk of dying. Even today, after huge strides to reduce poverty, that is the global reality.

At the same time, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a third of all food produced in the world — about 1.3 billion tonnes, gets lost or wasted in the food production and consumption systems. Millions go hungry whilst billions of tonnes of food go to waste. It is another example of the sharp contradictions of the 21st century.

Food waste is a waste of money, natural and human resources. There are two main reasons why we throw away good food: we buy, cook and often prepare too much and we don’t always use it in time; something unthinkable to my grandmother, feeding hungry teenage boys in a London school during the Blitz. Global resources are scarce, but we have lost the understanding of scarcity.

That’s why during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics the then British Prime Minister David Cameron brought together leaders from around the world, including the now interim President Michel Temer, to discuss the challenge of nutrition. This in turn led to a follow up event in London in 2013 which focused on under nutrition and raised a pledge of an additional $2.9 billion to address under nutrition and a commitment to reduce the number of stunted children globally by 20 million by 2020.

Brazil has taken up the torch. On 4th August, on the eve of the Olympics, the Brazilian government will host the second Nutrition for Growth event, working with the governments of UK and Japan, who will host another event at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Nutrition for Growth Rio will discuss the problems of both under-nutrition and obesity, bringing together governments, civil society, foundations, businesses, athletes and chefs to discuss progress made and what works to address the many paradoxes of food, including hunger and food waste.

To close the event, David Hertz, an inspirational Brazilian chef and founder of Gastromotiva, a Brazilian social gastronomy initiative, will prepare snacks with discarded food from the Olympic Village. Gastromotiva’s message is a powerful one, that it is possible to prepare tasty, nutritious, and safe dishes with food that would have been discarded.

The numbers above are alarming but there is increasing awareness about the problem of food waste — through the launch of campaigns such as “Save Food Brazil” or “Think. Eat. Save” in the UK and through the work of chefs like David Hertz in Brazil and Jamie Oliver in the UK and “social gastronomy”, a movement of chefs which seeks to promote peoples’ health and well-being and social responsibility.

There are things we can do at home to use food more efficiently; and things we can encourage the big purchasers of food to do, for example following the example of those supermarkets which are working to ensure that surplus food goes to those without.

We live in a world of food abundance, food scarcity and food waste. Here is a 21st century contradiction we can do something about. The focus in Rio will, rightly, be on the sporting prowess of thousands supremely fit Olympians. Let’s not forget the millions who live in another reality.