Our feijuca of every Wednesday

🎶 … Joga o paio, carne seca, toucinho no caldeirão. E vamos botar água no feijão!🎶

As Chico Buarque has already sung, throughout the four corners of the world, in the song “Feijoada Completa”, every Wednesday – and on Saturdays too – there it is: steaming, tasty, served in individual bowls, that just by thinking about it makes one salivate.

There are even those who consider it a sacred occasion, with a ritual full of steps: crispy deep-fried pork to start it off, vinaigrette and tender green cabbage on the side. Oh, let´s not forget the orange and the generous bowl of rice. And, why not, after all, everyone needs a brake, the alcoholic symbol of Brazil in the world: a caipirinha.

In other words, as surely as two and two are four, feijoada is always at the bar, in the tavern, in the nearest restaurant to satisfy the Brazilian appetite.

But perhaps you have never asked yourself, why after all this blessed delicacy began to be served religiously on Wednesdays in Brazil? Why?

So, grab paper, pen, and get ready, because this story is interesting.

The “guilt” of all this has a name and surname: the Portuguese. With the arrival of the Royal Family in Brazil in 1808, this story of having a dish for each day of the week became almost a decree of your majesty. And as the Portuguese are masters at producing dishes that mix beans, pork, one element and another – like Portuguese stew -, feijuca soon gained the spotlight.

The Arrival of Dom João VI in Bahia | Cândido Portinari (1903-1962).

From real desire to “sacrament”, it was a leap. And with the beginning of industrialization, the attire of the elite became a national standard: with more people having to eat away from home, initially in guesthouses and later in restaurants, the “daily special” menu began to be planned – not just to get the customer more acquainted, but also to facilitate the purchasing cycle and avoid waste.

So, for example, the Paulista style became the king of Monday´s by reusing the beans from the previous week. Friday fish is the result of Catholic tradition. The mid-week feijoada is due to the fact, experts say, that pork resists time better than chicken and steak. And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

But while your mouth is already watering to tell this story at your next lunch, it’s also worth knowing that feijoada is far from being a meal created by slaves. Several arguments contradict the myth. First: the slave did not have time to cook the beans for the time necessary for that special taste. Second: eating meat in 19th century Brazil, when feijoada became a national passion, was something for the rich.

But that doesn’t mean that the story everyone learned at school about feijoada utilizing everything and then some more doesn’t have a real spice to it. Our “national dish” is a great lesson on how to use resources to their maximum potential, avoiding waste.

Even science has already embarked on this. The new “reuse” is called kidney transplantation from genetically modified pigs, raised under very specific conditions, for humans, carried out by Brazilian doctors in the United States. And soon, the technique will also be here.

Whether we want it or not, therefore, one of the biggest problems in the food industry – after all, today we need to produce food for 10 billion people, according to data from the United Nations (UN). And clearly the techniques, the market, the socio-political-economic-cultural ecosystem have not proven to be efficient, because we still have 800 million people going hungry in the world.

In short, there is an obvious distribution problem, it is important to say, but also a waste problem: according to the United Nations, 30% of the food produced in the world – more than 1.3 billion tons per year! – gets lost or goes to waste. This not only means that food does not reach everyone’s plate, but it also becomes more expensive. And acting to reduce waste is, therefore, one of the most important ways to ensure food security.

Well then. This is one of the roots of Raízs, a foodtech founded in 2016 and which received investment from KPTL in 2023. Part of the company’s idea is to eliminate the middlemen in the food distribution process: instead of going through distributors and retailers, Raízs’ food goes directly from small farmers to the company, and from there to consumers’ homes, whether in individual purchases or subscription baskets. Another important point, of course, is technology: from artificial intelligence capable of predicting consumer demand and guiding those working in the field to multiple integrations and algorithms in distribution centers, shortening paths and preserving food for longer.

Raízs Distribution Center (Photo: Press Release).

Better organizing the production and distribution of food also means thinking about the best use of land, reducing the impact on the planet. Raízs does this in an almost ancestral way, respecting the seasonality of food. “You can’t have strawberries in December without using agrochemicals, without having an impact on the soil”, recalls the executive. Sustainability is also a concern – and today we spend more energy to produce food than we receive from it, as Jorge Meza, representative of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in Brazil, remembers in the interview below (read below!).

Mitigating the impacts of this production, therefore, is as important as directing it in the most strategic way. And that’s where initiatives like CHP Brasil come in, which helps all sorts of companies that generate waste to transform it into biogas – from sugarcane bagasse left over from sugar production to livestock waste. And even the pig that turned into feijoada that you ate on Wednesday. Nothing is lost from him. Not to mention the waste from landfills and sewage.

Founders of CHP Brazil (Photo: Press Release).

“A farm with 6 thousand heads of pigs, for example, can generate on average energy equivalent to around 500 KWh, depending on the type of farming”, explains Fábio França, founding partner of the Rio company, also invested by KPTL. In addition to manufacturing bio generators, capable of refining biogas, CHP also implements complete projects with biodigesters, contributing not only to the sustainability of different sectors, but also distributed generation and energy security – having a “small plant” is a way of many rural properties guaranteeing that they will have energy even when there are network failures.

(Not to mention that waste from biogas generation can also be reused as fertilizer, in an excellent reaffirmation of the old maxim of French chemist Lavoisier: “in nature, nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed”.)

So, when you sit down at the table to eat your feijoada every Wednesday, or Saturday, it’s worth thinking about all the path that the cabbage, sausage and deep-fried crispy pork took to get to your plate. And just as the orange serves to break down the fat in a meal, it’s worth thinking about innovation (and how important it is to encourage it) to reduce the impact of our beloved national dish. The planet thanks you!

“A good product is the one that makes you think why the hell hasn’t anyone done this before.”

(Unknown author)

3 questions for…

Jorge Alberto Meza Robayo

FAO representative in Brazil.

1) Today, we see many people adopting new food consumption habits in favor of a more sustainable diet, which causes less impact on the planet – such as reducing the consumption of red meat, for example. Despite being an individual choice, is this a movement that can collectively generate significant reductions in the carbon footprint caused by human food?

In statistical terms, it is estimated that agri-food systems produce between 21% and 37% of total global emissions, including the entire chain, from production to waste treatment. The agricultural sector generates greenhouse gas emissions, but there is also potential for mitigation of these activities, including soil carbon sequestration and better spatial planning. In relation to consumers, it is possible to observe that they are moving towards a more demanding position, but at different paces. In the last 60 years, the world population has tripled, and meat consumption has increased 5 times in the same period. There are consumers who have little or no concern with the origin or production process of food, taking only characteristics and flavor into account. However, there are clear signs of an increase in the profile of consumers who want to know more about the production process of what they consume and, little by little, are incorporating environmental and social concerns into the concept of “product quality”. There are even those who incorporate, within the concept of quality, the way animals lived and died to feed us.

The food system moves to serve the consumer – and not necessarily the producer. It is a very complex process and in permanent transition. We do not know when a large global market for these new consumers will be consolidated, as socioeconomic differences, the differences between those who have and those who can choose what they consume, are large in relation to those who cannot. However, there is a trend that we cannot ignore.

2) Fighting hunger and caring for the environment are two of the Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN for 2030. In industry and the financial market, however, there are those who claim that it is difficult – or impossible – to reconcile food security with sustainability. What do you think of this thought? How is it possible to advance these two agendas?

It is important to understand that all living organisms are, individually, carbon neutral: they take the carbon they need from the environment, incorporate it into their structures, release the excess as waste and end up releasing it completely when they die. This includes humans, animals, and plants. Therefore, in principle, if we only counted the carbon individually used and released by living beings, we would not have the problems we have today. The difference lies in what we use to produce food: to operate agri-food systems, we use so much input and energy that the waste we produce ends up polluting the air, soil, and water. In principle, we put more energy into the system than we get from food – and the negative balance is “pollution”. There are no 100% efficient systems. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, it is possible to significantly reduce the impacts of agriculture on the atmosphere, soil, water, and biodiversity – something that FAO supports through a series of policies. The industry can collaborate, ensuring that the inputs it uses in its production system come from sources with the lowest possible impact and/or do not generate deforestation of natural forests, for example. The financial system must avoid placing its resources in projects that do not consider the reduction of environmental impact and that do not consider the necessary mitigation and compensation measures. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

3) How does the technology and innovation industry already contribute or can contribute to assisting with these objectives, whether in preserving the environment, building global food security, or building more sustainable agriculture?

When thinking about the agri-food system, we must consider the entire system – from research, seed and input production, cultivation and harvesting, transportation, primary and secondary marketing, and even the preparation of food for consumption, consumption itself, as well as treatment. and final disposal of waste. It is such a broad system that, in economic terms and job creation, it is second only to the global energy system. In fact, science and innovation contribute and become a powerful engine to transform agri-food systems and end hunger and malnutrition. There are advances today in fields such as biotechnology, nuclear techniques, digital tools, nanotechnology, big data, data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. They must be accompanied by political will, strong institutions, supportive regulatory frameworks, and good governance. It is equally important to continue promoting public-private partnerships in research and development. One of the challenges for countries is the gap between existing science, innovation and technologies and their accessibility and adoption at the local level, especially in low and middle-income countries or among small producers. More recently, the digital divide has become a major concern for many countries. A fundamental challenge for science and innovation in agri-food systems is the strategic importance of responding to the needs of different local contexts, including small producers and family farmers. There is a lack of investment in agri-food innovation systems at national level, which is crucial for adapting innovations to local contexts.