The Theatre of Life or How to Feed the Poor With Dignity
By Robert K Stephen
This documentary which recently played in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver and Quebec City. It is a tasty mix of social gastronomy, food porn, recollections of the dispossessed and disadvantaged and the reflections of some of the world’s top chefs.
Renowned Italian Chef Massimo Bottura is head chef at Osteria Francescana voted best restaurant in 2016. Being an advocate of social gastronomy he invites 50 of the world’s top chef’s to serve meals to the disadvantaged and dispossessed using discarded food from the 2015 World Expo in Milan which had a theme, “Feeding the Planet-Energy for Life”.
Bottura also help found “Food for Soul” which encourages communities to fight food waste through global inclusion. As Bottura points out some 1/3 of the world’s food production is wasted!
Bottura makes some calls and part of an abandoned theatre is converted by top Italian designers and artists into a smart little restaurant, sleek, minimalist with a fully gastronomically equipped restaurant known as “The Reffettorio” (refectory).
Bottura insists this is not charity but rather social gastronomy that deplores the waste of food and strives to recognize people for who they are. The Refettorio is a place to find a home and hopefully a first step to a better life.
Food gives both spiritual and physical energy. For Italians sitting around a table is life. It’s like a family.
There are three overt themes to this film.
The first is obvious and it’s the thrill of seeing how these chefs can create beautiful and delicious dishes with what is available to them at the beginning of the day. It is creativity and artistry to witness what gourmet dishes can be created with cast off food.
The second is also rather obvious and it is a close up profile of the guests of the Refettorio, drug addicts, refugees, bad luckers and prostitutes.
The third is a chance to witness the thoughts and conversations of some world renowned chefs such as Bottura, Bataglia, Ducasse, Adria, Jeremy Charles from Raymonds in St. John’s, Newfoundland, John Winter Russel from Candide in Montreal and of course to marvel at their creations from discarded foods.
There is also something more subtle at play. Gourmet chefs serving outstanding meals ordinarily available only to otherwise a privileged elite. Rather like kind philanthropist capitalists doling out an annual summer picnic for their factory workers? The Theatre of Life has almost reached the Theatre of the Absurd. Of course we can be a moralist and say this is a mockery of the guests of the Refettorio but if I was hungry I’d welcome a square meal.
In fact one of the guests at the Refettorio states he does not like eating there as he feels objectified noting the real problems are out there in the world and none of the chefs want to talk about “our” problems.
Nice to be moralistic when your stomach is full. Despite the dispossessed and disadvantaged guests at the Refettorio there are stories of hope, courage and determination to make the word a better place by all the players in the documentary. I’ll say doing something is better than nothing.
(“Theatre of Life”, Director Peter Svatek, 94 minutes, 2016, Various languages with English subtitles)
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