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These Mystery Food Pellets Are São Paulo’s Attempt to Combat Hunger

The program has drawn criticism from nutrition experts.

Kaleigh Rogers

Kaleigh Rogers

Image: Screengrab/YouTube

You know that one kid in elementary school who would eat dog food on a dare? Well, he might be the only person in the world aside from São Paulo mayor João Doria Jr. who thinks this is a good idea: a new hunger-fighting initiative that distributes mystery food nuggets to the poor.

I mean, just look at this stuff:

Read more from VICE Brazil: Doria wants to fight hunger with "Allimento"

Monday is World Food Day, so what better time to discuss a particularly dystopian solution to one of the planet's most pervasive problems?

Part of a project called Food for Everyone, the food pellets are called "Allimento" and are made out of the dehydrated leftovers of food from the commercial processing industry that are close to expiring or "out of marketing standard." There is no public information on what, exactly, is in these things.

In a video promoting the nuggets, Doria noted that Allimento contains all of the nutrients a healthy person needs, including protein, vitamins, and minerals. He has told local press that making the free meal substitute—which will be distributed to poor families around the city—is also good for the environment and reduces food waste. About 5 percent of Paulistanos live below the poverty level.

These are all admirable goals, especially considering the severe health impacts that malnutrition has on growing children. But the program has drawn criticism from experts, who have compared Allimento to everything from rations, to scraps, to pet food. The Regional Council for Nutrition, an organization that represents nutritionists, opposed the idea, calling it a human rights violation that is "in total disregard for the advances made in recent decades in the field of food security."

Paolo Carosella, a celebrity chef from Argentina, tweeted her disgust for the idea, calling it "violence" that will force low income families to be "dependent on crumbs."

Providing nutritionally-dense meal supplements isn't an offense on its own. Many programs addressing food insecurity around the world use products like Plumpy Nut and they can be useful tools in helping improve nutrition. But there's a difference between supplementing your diet with a nutritional bar and popping a handful of pet food-resembling pellets made of the food food industry's garbage.

In fact, when it comes to food waste, there are a number of other strategies to curbing this problem that are more effective and less insulting, such as the "ugly produce" initiative that helps ensure fruits and veggies with harmless lumps, bumps, and spots still get eaten.

Even Soylent, the Silicon Valley meal-replacement beige sludge, has been pitched as a solution for food insecurity—an idea that was met with similar concerns to the "Allimento" pellets. The issue is that just because someone is poor doesn't mean they don't have a right to real, healthy, whole foods: fruits, vegetables, cultural staples, not just supplements dried or juiced into a portable, affordable package. Any programs designed to address malnutrition and food insecurity needs to keep this top of mind.

In Brazil, an estimated 66 million people don't have reliable access to sufficient food, according to Oxfam. Though the country has made huge strides towards tackling this issue through poverty reduction and meal programs, there's still work to be done, and dolling out dried nuggets of food waste to hungry kids probably isn't the best way to approach the problem.

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