A group of celebrity chefs and artists have gathered in Rio to turn donated food from the Olympic Village into meals for people from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The project is called Refettorio Gastromotiva and Susie Ibarra, a faculty member from Bennington College, is one of the artists contributing to the project.
Susie Ibarra is a percussionist and composer, in addition to being a professor at Bennington College.
She has recorded music dedicated to Filipino migrant workers and worked with a theater group to bring attention to the lives of sex slaves in Thailand. She says collaboration and social activism provide the backbeat to her improvisation and composition.
So when Brazilian chef David Hertz asked her to travel to Rio to support what he calls "a social gastronomy movement," Ibarra got on board.
"My collaboration with David [Hertz] began in our discussion around music and food and Brazilian culture, which has also influenced me a lot creatively in my music," Ibarra says. "We were also interested in how we might develop the artistry of that."
Hertz and Italian chef Massimo Bottura set up a kitchen and artistic installation in one of Rio's poorest neighborhoods. The chefs are heavyweights: Bottura's restaurant in Italy is one the top-rated in the world.
The project, according to the Refettorio Gastromotiva website, is meant to bring "nourishment, culture [and] dignity" to all. Each night, using surplus food from the Olympic village and from restaurants around Rio, celebrity chefs prepare gourmet meals for nearby residents, who are otherwise not getting a seat at the Olympic table.
"The opening of this project around the Olympics and the Paralympics is to gather attention on taking 12 tons of food from the Olympics and re-purposing it for nutritious meals for those who need it," says Ibarra. "When you have an opportunity to perform these kinds of projects with this kind of visibility it can bring awareness to acts that don't always have to be on a large scale, but can be every day practices."
She says the performances will use recorded sound from the chefs working and serving food, along with Brazilian rhythms on contemporary and traditional instruments.
"Percussion music is pretty deep in the culture of Brazil and so I wanted to mix new music, which I like to do when I come into communities, and see how it can be interactive," Ibarra says. "And I bring my artistry."
"We're discussing also perhaps that the chefs will play some percussion for the square," Ibarra says, "which would be really great for them to join the drummers."
Ibarra is scheduled to perform Aug. 18 alongside the French chef, Alan Ducasse, and with Hertz on Aug. 22.
At Bennington College Ibarra teaches in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, where she has brought percussion and music into discussions around woman and girl issues.
In Rio, she's joining other artists, architects and designers from around the world — who bring their passion and creativity to the project.
She says music, and food, and social activism are all important. They enrich the soul and the body.
Ibarra says the human family needs to stretch itself and we need to feed and teach each other that change is possible. And that happens one meal and one beat at a time.