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C2M16: Food as a Social Gesture and The Power of The Many

Much was said on the topic of collaboration at this year’s C2 Montreal, the “business and creativity” conference – the, ummm, collaborative effort of Sid Lee and Cirque de Soleil held each year in La belle province. This year’s theme “The Many,” included speakers, workshops and labs that focused on how influence has shifted away from corporate, or “The One” into the hearts, minds and hands of “The Many” – tech entrepreneurs, chefs, educators, environmentalists, and the consumers themselves.

We’re seeing this shift everywhere – whether it’s the creation of a model that allows anyone to become an online merchant with little risk and cost through ecommerce platform Shopify, or the creation and rise of new media models like Vice, which turned the tables on reporting by taking an edgy, subjective perspective of the world versus falling into line and dishing out content in formats and tone mandated by giant media parent companies.

Yet, with dramatic change fuelled through collaboration and momentum as a result of The Many, there is still always the catalyst, the dreamer who leads the way with their clear and unwavering vision. Massimo Bottura, who took the stage at C2, is one of these extraordinary architects of change.

Most people who walked through the Milan Expo food pavilions in 2015 would silently pass by the tables of unused food without further consideration, but Massimo Bottura, chef patron of Osteria Francescana from Modena Italy saw hundreds of meals going to waste.

“There are 1 billion people overeating and 1 billion undereating.” Bottura said quoting fellow restauranteur and social entrepreneur Mark Brand.

He called on his chef friends from around the world and together 60 of them cooked beautiful simple meals from the tens of thousands of pounds of leftover food that would otherwise end up in the bin, and served it up to people in need in a dignified manner, against a background of art and culture.

“It was not just opening up a soup kitchen, it’s opening up a refectory, where monks used to eat while reading the Bible,” Cristina Reni, the manager, says. “You don’t just feed your body, but also your soul.”

Called the Refettorio Ambrosiano, another such destination will open in Bologna and plans are in the works to create this model once again in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic games this summer.

This was not chef’s first run at saving food from waste. Through the creation of one recipe that was shared around the world, Chef Bottura leveraged the power of The Many after 1000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano with an estimated value of $200 million – a third of the annual production – were damaged in an earthquake in the important food-producing region of Emilia-Romagna in May 2012. Bottura has called creation of the dish “a social gesture.” The recipe had very few ingredients; the story went viral and this together with other regional efforts the global demand for parmesan was enough to salvage the livelihoods of dairy farmers and the local economy.

Speaker after speaker at C2 pledged the power of The Many and how collaboration between experts across industries and functions are fuelling change and is de facto becoming the new world order. As David Suzuki said to a captive group of over a thousand about the disregard of the role of forests to the economy, The Many can make huge shifts across industries in massive systems that are seemingly not in our control: “Conventional economists ignore the contribution of nature. We can’t change nature but through constitutional change, through parliament, through grassroots organizations, we can change the economy.”

This new model for collaboration also illustrates that sometimes simplicity leads to the most powerful action, with the core idea of one person driven forward by The Many. As Bottura said when asked what his simple recipe tasted like, his response was, “It tasted like hope.”