By Valentina Pellegrini
Sustainability is a deep-rooted concept here at Pellegrini. My father Ernesto Pellegrini founded the company that bears his name back in 1965 and from the very beginning, he prioritized respect for the individual and the environment. Feeding people while also maintaining sustainability standards is a complex business but if you do it right, it can be rewarding.
Our grandparents have taught us not to waste food and one can only imagine how difficult it is to apply the same concept on a corporate level. That’s the reason why the idea of sustainability that we built our company on 55 years ago became the paradigm for the creation of other services we developed through the 1980s and 1990s, such as food stamps, cleaning services and vending services. To us, sustainability means first and foremost being respectful to the people that are part of our company (over 9,000 employees), our clients, end consumers and suppliers.
Feeding 200,000 people every day is a big responsibility because these aren’t just occasional patrons, these are men and women who usually dine at our restaurants every day of the year, which is why Pellegrini can’t separate sustainability from the respect that we owe them. Our commitment to the environment and our Planet has driven us to optimize and improve the way we process, select, store and transform foodstuffs, thanks to a new tailor made platform we’ve created, called ‘Central Food’.
There’s a lot of talk about food waste these days but we’ve always made it an integral part of our process. Avoiding food waste improves your business, it proves that sustainability is more than just an impossible chimera and it means reducing the amount of foodstuffs we order, while also reducing our carbon footprint and preserving the environment and its resources.
Over the course of the years, with Accademia Pellegrini we have extended our efforts beyond food, through research and development and groundbreaking ideas and solutions to meet our customers’ expectations or even better, whenever possible, anticipate them.
After 50 years of hard work, my family has decided to give back some of the good fortune we’ve had by introducing our charity project Fondazione Ernesto Pellegrini ONLUS. We feel a strong connection with this project. We did it for our society, for our local communities, and because we strongly believe that doing good for someone else is good for you.
Our mission at the Fondazione is put into practice with Ristorante Solidale Ruben, our charitable restaurant, a place where people can enjoy quality food, comfort and hospitality, a small way to build up a new future together with diners. Ruben relieves people of an objective need, while also providing a boost of energy and motivation in a pleasant environment, with the opportunity to choose from a menu just like any other restaurant, while indulging in small talk with other diners. What contributes to making it feel ‘normal’ is the symbolic €1 fee, the same amount that workers were charged to use staff canteens.
It’s important to take care of form, meanings and operational methods because we’re catering for people left struggling by their current situation, people who need a hand, the ‘new poor’, as they are sometimes called. They’re often dubbed ‘new’ because the sequence of events that brought them here is unprecedented, and also because most of them had never experienced this level of economic disruption before. A novel state of unexpected difficulty, for people who had been leading ‘normal’ lives until that point, and are now feeling disenchanted and powerless, especially with regard to possible redemption. We’re talking about a new form of poverty. Economic suffering is just the start of a bigger process, which ends up causing a sense of social impoverishment, there’s a risk of escalation, from suffering hardships to having no future at all.
With Ristorante Solidale Ruben, we’ve realized the importance of giving tangible help as well as relief right away. This place has become a reference point for fellow diners, a way to break the circle of social isolation while restoring visibility and dignity for people who are in a dark place and need to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ruben is a place that allows people to eat dinner for €1 but it is a lot more than that. It evolved to cater the needs of diners beyond food, with activities and support provided by over 150 volunteers and professionals working pro bono.
Listening and learning programmes with local resources, jobs and legal counseling, these are just some of the collateral activities that are available along with social housing projects, with five apartments and educational and recreational activities for the kids. A vibrant environment to welcome people, their history and their needs. A place and a reference point for people who have decided to change in order to move on in the global health emergency.
The ongoing health crisis and the dramatic economic aftermath, with restrictions on movement and legitimate fears, is also resulting into a deterioration of relationships and purchasing power: this deterioration can turn into a much worse sense of disruption and total isolation if it occurs in situations that are characterized by intrinsic fragility.
For several Ruben diners, the current scenario has wiped out hopes and plans for the future and a considerable number of people are quickly drifting towards indigence, which means that a growing number of people need these projects to work in order to combat poverty.
One of the most devastating effects of the ongoing crisis is the lack of a tangible future to build a sustainable life project on. The ability to imagine that moves individuals and communities is jeopardized by the ashes of the crisis as the smoke clears. Ruben wants and needs a perspective in order to continue working on two fronts. Firstly, we want to respond to daily needs of people who are struggling, and secondly, we want to build and plan a future in a more complex scenario, where everyone can be included with the opportunity to build a project for a sustainable life.
PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN DIVERCITY VIII September 2020