Health through food at Refettorio Gastromotiva

The team at Refettorio Gastromotiva is happy to welcome Danielle, professional nutritionist and valuable volunteer! Danielle has been helping the staff of the Refettorio to create nutritionally balanced lunch boxes for the guests, from the elaboration of the menu to their portioning. Today she told us a little about herself and her role in helping the Refettorio build a healthier food system for everyone.


Credits: Alexandra Karmirian

Have you done volunteer work before? 

I had never done volunteer work before. I’ve been a nutritionist since 2007, working in this field for 13 years, and I have been in contact with volunteers many times, but I have never been a volunteer myself. I had wanted to volunteer at Gastromotiva for some time, but I didn’t know how to get there. I’m a neighbor here, I’ve been passing by the Refettorio many times, but I lacked initiative and I had a very busy life. Then the moment came, when we had to take a break and rethink some things. Some cycles closed and others opened. There is no way you go through a situation like this and not change. I think whoever has gone through this moment and hasn’t changed has lost a beautiful opportunity.

What is different about this experience of volunteering and cooking during the pandemic?

Volunteering was essential for me to maintain my mental health during the pandemic. It was a willingness to help and be useful at that time and it was therapeutic. I live alone, I was at home for two months, I needed these interactions. I think that voluntary work is a path where everyone wins, everyone has something to gain. And we grow through this experience. I got here and met a lot of wonderful people, a really nice work environment. It was love at first sight. It felt really good that they welcomed me with open arms, we recognized each other and connected. It’s been a really cool experience.

What is the biggest challenge of this experience? 

The biggest challenge is always to promote health. I have been a health professional for a long time, before becoming a nutritionist I was a nursing technician. You don’t stop being a health professional outside of work. What we want is always to promote health, especially in a scenario where health is in crisis, the search for its promotion has become more essential. Health involves several aspects, not just one, and it’s much more than the absence of a disease. Promoting health in a world that is sick is a daily challenge. If I can contribute a little to this change, changing first within us and then reflecting this in the world in which we live, I think I am on the right path.

What do you like the most about being able to contribute? 

The coolest thing has been the exchange. I am learning a lot from them. I always studied in public schools, public college, so there is this thing of giving back to society. It is a wonderful, multidisciplinary project, involving several areas, so this exchange has been very enriching.

 Do you intend to continue doing volunteer work after the crisis?

Yes, I do. As long as it’s useful for people, both here at Gastromotiva and elsewhere. I hope to be able to keep this as part of my life.

 Any stories or information you would like to share?

With the pandemic, I think we are all going through a period of depression. I have been working for 11 years in the consulting area with commerce and restaurants and suddenly I found myself without a job, 80% of my clients closed. You feel insecure. And then it hit me: “No, I’m a health professional, people need me. In this moment when people are concerned about health, I can contribute.” And also to change this logic of work that is always thinking about money. Of course, money is important, but at that moment what I really wanted was to keep my head going somehow. I sent my resume on the website and the same day they called me. It was a connection, I needed them and they needed me. When I arrived, I saw how much I could collaborate. Gastronomy and nutrition are areas that complement each other and it is very important for us to work together, especially when we are serving people who already have poor health. I see my work here making room for many nutritionists. We see how much we can add if we work together. Many chefs in the gastronomy area have a certain prejudice because they see the nutritionist only as a health professional or as someone who will call attention to the wrong things. I hope that we will be able to find our own space within the gastronomic world. It is good for us to see how people here understand their work and I am happy to be able to open this space for my profession.