Breaking the cycle of poverty – an ecochef’s impetus for new economics

By Sarah Jones and Alicia Rose Amende

Photo: 8 year old Ludmilla lists her favourite dishes in order of protein content in her Delicias de Alicia work book. Credit: Delicias de Alicia

Opening doors

Sarah Jones reflects on twenty-five years as a sustainable development professional.

Everything is a process. You can enter the room of sustainable finance, business and lifestyle by many different doors. The important step is to go in.

It is early Friday evening at a 19th Century house or cascon near the centre of Buenos Aires City. Alicia Rose Amende and her Latin American team are making the final preparations for a set, three course dinner for thirty to forty guests. This is a restaurant with a difference. It is more akin to a regular dinner party, of mostly unknown invitees, held in a beautiful private house. While the cascon was purchased as an empty, ransacked ruin, reflecting socio-economic upheaval of decades gone by, the cultural values of the house have been regenerated with historical materials purchased from demolition auctions. Furnishings are created from recycled materials. The three metre high windows look out onto clear skies, an eclectic mixture of low rise buildings – mostly from the same period, and rows of trees lining the quiet, cobbled avenues. As the first guests arrive the restaurant oozes creativity and well-being. Alicia crosses the central open courtyard from the kitchen to serve a welcoming cocktail.

There are plenty of local food choices from Argentina’s fresh summer produce to create tonight’s menu. Following guacamole and coriander or blue cheese and grape crostinis made with Delicia’s sour bread toasts,  the local waiters and student interns serve rocket salad with caramelised pears. mozzarella cheese and pesto sauce. The main course of organic chickpea, squash and aubergine tagine served with yamani rice receives expressions of delight from the guests for its colourful presentation and delicate touches. Alicia Rose cooks without salt, using subtle herbs and spices to add flavour to her dishes, leaving additional seasoning to individual choice. Even though her deserts are renowned amongst her Argentine ‘sweet toothed’ guests,  they replace a large proportion of sugar found in most sweets, with seasonal fruits. Today’s strawberry and lemon cheesecake with strawberry couli is no exception.

The importance of good nutrition – designing the future from past lessons

The Delicias de Alicia restaurant is different from another perspective. Sixty-five percent of the financial profit from the restaurant, and its catering business, pay for cooking and nutrition workshops for children from low-income city and rural communities. Delicias de Alicias first opened its doors to finance the children’s workshops in 2015, but the story began over a decade earlier, shortly after the 2001-2002 financial crisis in Argentina, when the cascon became the centre for the initiative ETF Hubs.

Photo: The children from a city shanty town or ‘villa’ in Barracas, Buenos Aires, choose their vegetables in a local market for cooking a fresh pasta sauce at Delicias Workshop 3. Credit: Delicias de Alicia

The initials ETF signify the pillars of sustainable development – interactive Education, jobs though green practices and Technologies and nutritious Food. ETF Buenos Aires Hub at first worked directly with street children, those begging or recycling rubbish in the city centre, tracing them back to the most marginalised shanty towns.  The first priority was to provide food for the children, with a focus on nutritious and abundant fruits such as bananas and manderines. As more government funded canteens for the children sprung-up to respond to the crisis, ETF linked with a far flung neighbourhood on the outskirts of La Matanza, Greater Buenos Aires. some 60km from the city centre. Support activities included broadening the range and amount of food available at the canteen,  generating safe places to play, and giving educational support which included showing a different way of life through pyjama parties at the city cascon and trips away.  Community leaders were supported with ETF microfinance to generate added income, such as by making clothes aimed for sale within the local economy and to create sports club facilities with ‘token’ membership. But as government subsides and private donations became a prolonged way of life, expectations rose and the working ethic was difficult to maintain. Very importantly, there was little change in day to day food choices based on flour, sugar, milk powder and fizzy drinks – that is more sugar. On a broader scale Greater Buenos Aires was quickly losing a generation, with hundreds of thousands of malnourished young minds unable to lead prosperous futures.

Alica Rose remarks

When I was young, I learned to cook with my French grandmother who grew up in the Second World War and developed very good knowledge of how to prepare delicious meals with very limited ingredients, budget and a small vegetable garden. I started to understand how to break social and cultural barriers through my mother, a health professional, who designed and led a face-to-face campaign for health protection  for sex workers on the streets of my native city, Bristol, UK. Both my grandmother and my mother understood that nutrition and hygiene were the roots of their health, physical and mental strength and leadership skills.

Having experienced these issues first hand while volunteering with ETF Hubs in La Matanza, the (now) Delicias de Alicias project team worked with a number of independent health, education and nutrition experts, to re-design the focus. Alicia Rose proposed a critical change – to teach the children themselves the importance of food and nutrition, rather than relying on adults to make the change. ETF professionals designed a new sustainable financing system through catering services that created local jobs, as well as for funding the workshops. ETF Hubs re-directed its microfinance to start Delicias de Alicia restaurant and catering.

Photo: At Delicias Workshop 1 the children interpret in small drawings why nutrition is so important – such as to grow, to be strong, to absorb knowledge, to have energy. Credit: Delicias de Alicia

Laura Osorio, Delicias Chef recalls a couple of her experiences as staff in the workshops.

After cutting a banana cake to share it out, one boy rapidly grabbed several pieces in succession and only then did I realise he was really hungry. Another time an overweight child of 10 years old stayed asleep though the whole class.

Delicias de Alicia is now in its fourth year and has given a series of six cooking and nutrition workshops to groups of 20 to 40 children aged between 8 and 12 years old in five large city neighbourhoods and one rural community. The workshops are entirely interactive, employing games to teach about the importance of nutrition and hygiene. Recipies for fruit salad,  fresh vegetable pasta, lentil burgers and banana cake,  source easily accessible ingredients for cooking these familiar dishes in more healthy ways. After a first introductory workshop on the importance of nutrition, four cooking workshops cover fruits, vegetables, (limiting the use of) flours and sugars, and proteins. In the final workshop the children celebrate their graduation with healthy party food which they have learned to cook and receive a diploma. After the course of workshops the children also take away a book compiled of their worksheets and recipies.

Photos: (Left) Washing hands between fingers. (Right) The staff explain cutting techniques during Delicias Workshop 2, which makes fruit salad using sweet fruits and without sugar. Credit: Delicias de Alicia

The True Value of  Delicias de Alicia

Alica Rose points out

The Delicias de Alicias nutritionally balanced and delicious lentil burger with salad and mayonaise costs less than 20 Argentine pesos (50 US cents).

Photo: Lauris Osorio (left) and Alicia Rose Amende (right) demonstrate the Delicias lentil burger. Credit: Delicias de Alicia

While the scale of the Delicias de Alicia social enterprise is limited as a separate concept, its messages are reaching the most influencial decision makers. The project is providng a national and global model of best practice, with promotion on prime time national TV and in several national newspapers and magazines written in English.  In 2018, the project started measuring a number of sustainability mapping aspects to assess its impact, sometimes referred to as ‘resource accounts’.  These include men and women jobs, income, private financial contribution to preventative health care and education,  carbon emissions, energy use, water use, land disturbance, packaging use, recycling and percentage food waste. Through ETF Hubs Global Chefs and Cooks project, Delicias de Alicia is seeking to work further on the supply chains of ingredients, recognising that its business can only work towards true sustainability from the farm outwards. Most recently, Delicias de Alicia data has input to a demonstration model under development by the Clarity Coalition’s True Value Initaitive, combining its resource accounts with financial accounts for extrapolation to future scenarios for investment in the entire Argentine economy agrofood sector.  In turn, this demo model has attracted the attention of world leaders, such as Dr. Ashok Khosla, (India) and William Kwende (Burkina Faso), to adapt for improved risk-reward assessments for investments in their respective enterprises and for better assessing their national economies for economic growth and welfare.

Sarah Jones explains about the True Value Initiative.

Clarity bridges gaps for sustainable development from two ends. One end is very tangibile, such as Delicias de Alicias, which is making change from the bottom-up to create new services and their financing and by working with products which are accessible (affordable and available). At the other end are massive drivers of societal development (measures) which greatly influence which products and services are available on a large scale and their price. At this scale, what we measure is what we do, and money talks! Our current international and national economic growth and welfare measures, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), are very poor. GDP is effectively a short term measurement of the cash generated by products and services we produce at any one time. GDP does not measure what is produced, how it’s produced or who is producing it. The agrofood sector in Argentina is no exception.  As things stand there are no significant mainstream measures or money incentives in Argentina and most other countries to invest in and consume healthy food produced in a sustainable way. Worldwide over 30 trlllion US dollars of global pension and insurance fund investments are poorly informed by measures such as GDP.  By collecting robust granular data from projects such as Delicias de Alicia, world leaders from initiatives such as the Clarity Coalition, can demonstrate how much stronger (intrinsically valuable and less risk adverse) individual enterprises and entire national economies would be by scaling up Delicias de Alicia type business models and services. This new data and knowledge is available to inform tax regimes, policies and regulations, business strategies and national and international investment opportunities, as well as our day to day lifestyle choices.

As Alicia Rose predicted several years ago, the new face of poverty in Argentina is overweight children, caused by lack of nutritious food for pregnant mothers and infants who are growing through childhood with slow metabolisms and a diet based on flour and sugar.  A recent article in Argentina’s principal newspaper presents the problem as urgent, indicating that of the 13.6 million people (30% of the total population) living below the poverty line, 46.3% are children. (La Nación 26.2.19. Malnutrición: los niños con sobrepeso, la nueva cara de la pobreza urbana, featuring Delicias de Alicia)

Sarah Jones comments to economists,

Delicias de Alicia is breaking economic, social and cultural barriers one Delicias lentil burger at a time. I look forward to the day when the global economic indicator for  Purchase Power Parity is the true value ‘BIg D’.

Photo: Thumbs up for the ‘Big D’ cooked by the children at Delicias Workshop 4 on proteins in the rural community of Puerto Ruiz, Entre Rio Province, Argentina. Credit: Delicias de Alicia

Editors Notes
About the Authors

Dr Sarah Jones has been based in Buenos Aires since February 2002. She works on global and local sustainable development issues worldwide, often in the most challenging circumstances.

Alicia Rose Amende graduated in business and marketing in the UK, specialising in social enterprise. She came to Argentina through Latin America in 2013, founding Delicias de Alicia in 2014.

Vikki Cheung graduated in journalism and has worked independently from diverse bases including Accra, Buenos Aires, New York. Hong Kong and her current base in Montreal.

About associated initiatives

For more information on Delicias de Alica, for visiting the restaurant, booking catering servicing, offering a pop-up Delicias in your restaurant or house or for volunteering click here.

For more details on the ETF Hubs Chefs and Cooks Global Project click here. If you are a chef, cook, farmer, fisherman or other food business and would like to work with the Chefs and Cooks Global please contact Mariana Lomé.

The (now) ETF Hubs Microcapital Fund, was generated in 2011 by Sarah Jones, Russell Johnson and Anna Carter. Initial financing came from Christ Episcopal Church (Wyoming, US), Freshlets (Bath, UK), the Melvyn Jones and Hazel Blandford Memorial Funds and  Etf Sweden. By 2025 the fund aims for US$ 1 million assets generating income for microcapital investment for social enterprise entrepreneurs.

For more information on the Clarity Coalition’s True Value Initiative click here.

Delicias de Alicia Resource Accounts

The individual enterprise is a vegetarian restaurant and catering business (Delicias de Alicia Buenos Aires) which builds education and training into its business model. In the agrogrometer (left), recipe/menu choices are given traffic light scores from –5 to 0 (red) and from 0 to +5 (amber and green). The current national Argentine diet (BaU) is 0. The agrogrometro is just showing green with a combined scoring of +2.18 relative to BaU. For a breakdown in data, the radial chart (right) shows the individual resource accounting aspects and their relative scorings.

For the full report contact the Clarity Secretariat here.

Argentina’s 2001-2002 Financial Crisis

On December 21 2001, Argentina’s President Fernando de la Rua resigned after thousands of middle class citizens took to the streets with ‘pots and pans’ to protest at his government’s handling of the country’s worsening economic crisis. At least 22 people were killed in riots and looting around the country in the worst civil unrest for a decade. The Argentine peso became depegged from one-to-one with the US dollar overnight and ordinary people lost their life savings as the banks closed their thick steel doors. One of the phenomena which stemed from the sudden devaluation, joblessness and lack of social security for basic food and other needs was the rapid creation of a new social hierarchy the Cartoneros, strictly translated as ‘cardboarders’. Before, the crisis they could have been construction workers, factory employees, cooks, bakers or housekeepers. Every evening, before garbage collection, they search their loot of cardboard boxes, paper, aluminum cans, glass or plastic bottles which they then sell to recycling plants. The movement is so strong that the Carteneros are still operating in high profile parts of Buenos Aires City seventeen years on.

Photo: Cartoneros after collection in Buenos Aires financial centre.

About the True Value Initiative first stage demo, Argentine Economy – two diets

Through its True Value Initiative, the Clarity Coalition has designed and implemented a simple first stage demo to test the feasibility, practical steps and gaps for creating a framework for truly meaningful, useful, verifiable, robust linked data and knowledge from local and global sources. This demo data is real, drawing from three years of accounts of a Buenos Aires restaurant and catering social business (Delicias de Alicia); Argentine national accounts for relevant economic, social and environmental aspects; and other sources where data and information was missing, vague or considered more readily (and reliably) available. The demo tests two potential diets for the Argentine people and the costs and benefits for the entire economy:

Diet 1 – Business as Usual (BaU);
Diet 2 – Eating vegetarian once a week and building interactive food and nutrition education/training into the agrofood business model.

Outputs include comparative value, impact, risk-reward and management assessment tools for the individual enterprise and diet scenarios for the demo Argentine agro-food sector. The demo prioritised critical aspects which were objectively measurable including contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), imports, exports, employment, income, preventative health, education, water use and carbon emissions. The monetisable and/or privatisable nature of these aspects facilitated their direct integration into company financial accounts and the monetary measurement of economic activity ‘beyond GDP’ (Figure 1a).

Figure 1a shows the modified (aspect combined) commodity value at the farm gate for the Argentine agrofood sector represented by six demo items – avocados, cattle meat, chickpeas, cow’s milk, pears, wheat – for Diet 1 BaU (blue) versus Diet 2 vegetarian once a week. Monetised modifiers include a minimal credit for reduced carbon emissions ($10/tCO2eq below BaU), water use ($10/1000l below BaU) and employment (base rate 10$/manhour). The statistical ranges – referred to as confidence accounting – are generated from genuine raw data variation and differing but robust resource assessment methodologies. Confidence accounting ranges can also be populated by combining scenarios, such as combining the statistical ranges for the two diets presented in Figure 1a. The use of statistical ranges facilitates a better understanding of risk for economic decisions to inform coding for global, national and specific investment decisions, and to identify investment priorities and opportunities.

Information for mainstream economists – Key forecasts
The statistical ranges of confidence accounting are an alternative approach to single point financial accounting*, or in this case single point values for (modified) economic activity. From Figure 1a the government’s economic report would state that the mean commodity value at the farm gate is $14bn for Diet 1 and $13,69bn for Diet 2 with a conventional minimum of Diet 1 $12,94bn and Diet 2 $12,69bn, and a maximum of Diet 1 $15,07bn and Diet 2 $14,69bn, with 95% confidence the commodity value is at least Diet 1 $12,98bn and Diet 2 $12,73bn. The 95th percentile value, or confidence limit, is used in confidence accounting to support a ‘going concern’ assertion. If the state of the world doesn’t change – assume Diet 1 – or alternatively Diet 2 is realised, and the valuations are competently undertaken, the realised gross commodity value should be no more than Diet 1 $1,02bn ($14–12,98bn) and Diet 2 $0,96bn ($13,69–12,73bn) worse than the mean.

Information for mainstream investors
An investor looking to design a portfolio of lower risk investments at scale may look at this economic report of the Argentine agrofood sector with interest, in particular that Diet 2 has a lower risk of $0,96bn than Diet 1 of $1,02bn less than the mean of achieving its minimum value.

Investment strategy and tool innovations for today’s markets which transition to Sustainable Development
An investor may decide to invest directly in development of the agro-food sector to realise Diet 2. In turn the Argentine government may offer the investor a Policy Performance Bond, with an index-linked interest rate based on the success in realising the Diet 2 scenario. Policy Performance Bonds are similar to sovereign, municipal or corporate debt bonds. The innovation is to add a sustainability target to the bond contract – lower the interest from the base rate if the investee (in this case the government) meets the target, but increase the interest rate if the investee fails to meet the target. The investor therefore has the opportunity to hedge against the direct investment in agro-food sector Diet 2 by ‘betting’ against Diet 2 being realised with a Policy Performance Bond. The Argentine government has the incentive of cheaper loans, for example, to introduce the respective regulations and/or credits for the transition to sustainability (in this case carbon emissions and water use reduction and to encourage employment).

For the full report contact the Clarity Secretariat here.


*Confidence accounting was first presented in the publication Confidence Accounting: A bold proposal from Long Finance, ACCA and CISI, 2011.

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