Chef David Hertz is a world leader in turning food into social change. For David Hertz, food is more than sustenance, it’s a social-bonding tool. Through his non-profit, Gastromotiva, he’s found a way to empower the world’s poorest citizens. Gastromotiva provides free courses in restaurant cooking, kitchen-assistant training and food entrepreneurship, all with a focus on nutrition. Students apply online, and after they finish the program, they not only find jobs, but often start their own restaurants and soup kitchens.
Hertz was 18 when he started his journey, travelling to the Hatzerim kibbutz to live among native Israelis and Jews from all over the world. “I discovered myself and then I hit the world. Israel was my freedom,” he said. “I had the first vision that there was a bigger world and that I could search for my story, whatever it was. What was supposed to be a one-year trip abroad turned into seven.”
Between the ages of 18 and 25, he visited Thailand, China, Vietnam, India, England and Canada. He took his first cooking lesson in Thailand and discovered the ritual side of cooking in India. When he hit Toronto and started to work in the food delivery industry, he became inspired to become a chef, so he moved back to Brazil to attend a college of gastronomy in Sao Paulo.
In 2004, he was invited to design a kitchen project inside the Jaguare favela — one of Brazil’s many low-income shantytowns plagued with urban violence and drug trafficking, and historically neglected by the government. “When I stepped into that kitchen, I saw a new world,” Hertz said. “I was inspired to do something to contribute to the reduction of violence and to share my knowledge with the young people there, who at many times felt lost, with no relation of belonging to the space. It became my life project, my mission.”
The next year, he decided to create a school focused on training upcoming chefs from low-income areas, which are often plagued by malnutrition and food shortages. His organization, called Gastromotiva, runs a network of what they call Solidarity Kitchens, of which there are now 55 across Brazil and three in Mexico. He won the 2019 Charles Bronfman Prize, which honors innovative work grounded in Jewish values. He’s also worked closely with the United Nations’ World Food Program, which won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. They have been partners in many efforts to combat global hunger, with the latest focused on alleviating the hunger crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the Solidarity Kitchens are based out of the homes of alumni, as well as partnerships with local homeless charities and food banks. Together, they have distributed almost 80,000 free meals to hungry families. By the end of 2021, the number of Solidarity Kitchens will nearly double to 108, including some in other countries in Latin America. “Combating hunger and food waste are global challenges that require joint action. Collaborating with each other, we multiply our impact on the world. I wonder how to feed humanity with humanity,” he said