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Mare de Sabores - A Tide of Flavors

Gastronomy course and entrepreneurial mentorship for women empowerment, local food culture,agroecology and territorial development in favela

Photo of Mariana Aleixo
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Lead Applicant Organization Name


Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Our financial support comes from, among others: Nissan Institute; Rotary Club International; Grupo Pão de Açucar; Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ), Kindermissionswerk Die Sternsinger, Ireso e. V. Our NGO local partners are: the Favelas Observatory, UNIperipheries, Fight for Peace, Centro de Referências de Mulheres da Maré.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Rio de Janeiro

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Maré Favela – Rio de Janeiro

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I am Mariana Aleixo, founder and coordinator of the Project Mare de Sabores, based in Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela. I was born in Parque Mare, one of 16 favelas that make up the neighborhood of Mare. I majored in Gastronomy and undertook a Master and PhD course in Production Engendering at the Laboratory of Technology and Social Development - Management and Innovation Program of Production Engineering (COPPE/UFRJ). My family, just like many of those who live in the favelas, are migrants from Northeastern Brazil. Upon realizing the potential of gastronomy regarding its social possibilities, I founded  “Mare de Sabores” together with “Redes da Maré” (a civil society organization that promotes a sustainable development network in Mare). In my early professional trajectory, I worked in the food and beverage market and in haute cuisine restaurants all located in Rio de Janeiro's wealthy neighborhoods. These experiences were crucial to my education, since they consolidated my willingness to expand my gastronomic repertoire and made me seek for reflection and understanding of how social popular groups construct a food relation that broadens its physiological sense. Closely connected to my origins, such willingness lead me to materialize Mare de Sabores Project as a path to expand my comprehension regarding the possibilities that gastronomy can offer to popular territories, favelas and the peripheries in Rio de Janeiro.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

According to the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), the city of Rio de Janeiro is home to 6,230,446 people (2010); 1,393,314 of its inhabitants, that is – 22% – live in the city’s 763 favelas. Mare is a conglomerate of 16 favelas, located in the north area of the city of Rio de Janeiro. It is one of the most populated neighborhoods of the city, with 140 thousand residents who live in 42 thousand households. The neighborhood accounts for one of the lowest HDI (Human development index) of the city. Mare is also more populated than 96% of Brazilian towns. Women account to 51% of Mare's population and head 44.4% of the households; 62.1% are self-declared as brown or black; 60% of Mare residents have Brazilian northeastern origins. In fact, Mare constitutes a mosaic of Brazilian culinary identity, with the manifestation of indigenous, African and Portuguese cooking traditions  – historically formed within the 520-year history of Portuguese colonization in Brazil.  This produces a rich cultural combination that is noticed both in the public sphere – as the local trade, mainly restaurants, embrace Brazil's northeastern traditions – and in the private sphere, as we verify corresponding daily eating habits of Mare's residents, who make use of low-cost northeastern products that come from social indigenous experiences. Mare’s social dynamic resembles most of Brazilian favelas, though it presents its unique traits. Mare is home to the second largest Angolan community in Brazil; Chinese community’s presence is also considerable. There is a wide use of public space; hospitality and friendship are a strong mark of the neighborhood, as well as Mare's entrepreneurial vocation, which is widely seen in its 3,182 commercial enterprises – 1,118 of which belonging to the food sector.  There are singular experiences of housing, social experience, cultural creation and the exercise of political agency in Mare, which must be recognized on their own and not contrasted with normative, socio-political and symbolic references.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Given Mare’s populations low-income, their option for healthy food is restricted, increasing the consumption of ultra-processed food. This represents a huge challenge for improving Mare’s eating culture. For the Brazilian favelas, such challenge is even deeper, since they are intrinsically related to a structuring inequality and poverty that brings about unhealthy diets for its residents, which directly affect their human development. Improving food systems in Mare is a matter of combating structural inequality as a whole. Food systems, in their turn, spans far beyond, being a matter of health, education, culture, public security, water supply and sewage provision. The following data helps to picture Mare’s reality: there are 44 elementary schools in Mare and only 3 high schools. It reveals what is the actual education level the public government wants for the region's residents. There are 10 health units, 9 of which are Family Clinics –  old and poorly equipped health units – and there is only one Emergency Medical Unit. This context is further worsen due to daily and diverse types of violence and rights violation in the fields of education and health, which are all part of the city's contradictory strategies for Public Security. In Brazil, for every 100 homicides, 11 happened during police operations. In Mare, for every 10 homicides, 7 resulted from police operations. In 2019, someone was murdered by a fire weapon in Mare on every 10 days; during that year, 39 police operations resulted in 24 days of closed schools (12% of the school year) and 25 days of closed health units. Mare is located among the city's three main routes. Given its scarce green areas, this contributes to the formation of "urban heat islands. Such context worsens the residents' life quality and negatively impact their health. On regards to the  urban context, lack of trees is very common in Rio's Favelas, especially for the densely populated ones. On the other hand, 26% of households in Mare have plants, according to the 2019 Maré Census. According to the research, the main reason for residents to cultivate plants in their houses, is to decorate the domestic environment and fulfill the lack of plants and trees, as declared by 89.3% of residents who do so. We must notice that medicinal purposes is also an important motivation for growing plants in such households, accounting for 6.2%. For cooking and eating purposes, plant cultivation account for less than 1% in such households. Changing this reality is one of this project's motivation, since resignifying plant cultivation in Mare's households features as one of the challenges for changing the neighborhood eating system. For 2050, the long-term challenge is to think the territory's development as from sustainable practices that start from the residents. Actions would range from encouraging selective waste removal and in-house food production, which would impact the territory's entire supply chain, spanning far beyond human and environmental health, and serving as a model for other favelas of Rio and Brazil.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Encouraging In-house food production, working hand-by-hand with agroecology and recovering food production autonomy come as starting point for addressing the challenges above mentioned. Redes da Maré has been developing a series of socioenvironmental experiences. Since 2010, the project Mare de Sabores (“A Tide of Flavors”) empowers women and encourages territorial development by offering women gastronomy courses and entrepreneurial mentorship, enabling women to be financially independent, creating a local food culture and discussing the importance of healthy eating habits for improving  Mare residents’ life quality - women leading the way. Based on gastronomy and gender classes, the Projects qualifies 100 women from Mare every year. It directly impacts 600 residents of Mare. Our greatest desire now is get closer to agroecology, and make it core of the courses and eating principle in Mare, increasing our bond with agroecological Farming  chain of supply – learning with them and promoting agroecological culture, with regular fairs. The question is: how does food production and  disposal  come as a solution and not a problem? To address this issue, garbage composting must be considered, since half of organic waste can be turned into fertilizes or organic compost. In its turn, it could encourage vertical vegetable garden at the Mare's residents homes. Organic waste will be separated and collected using bicycles, as a mean to reduce CO2 emission. Waste will be directed to a compost shifter instead of garbage dump. By the end of each month, each resident who follows the project will receive 2kg of organic compost and seeds. Fertilizers would also be provided to be used in vertical vegetable gardens. In addition, gastronomy workshops will also be given, together with political education discussions and free interdisciplinary psycho legal assistance to women of Mare. Actions are be directed to women who have more deprived economic and educational conditions, creating opportunities that strengthen their professional and existential potential. Actions will also comprise a wider context of combating violence and right violations, as a mean to contribute with territorial development. We will work towards expanding women's life repertoire, enabling or making it easier that women have full access to rights, from a healthy eating diet to the right to live.

Additionally,  Maré de Sabores’ actions will include environmental education, social engagement with schools, residents, informal garbage collectors, Comlurb (Rio's cleaning service) and other local actors. The goal of these activities is to encourage reflection regarding the territory’s socioenvironmental matters, so as to intervene and take actions for improvement, with collective actions for afforestation and putting the environment as a key element for a more structuring development agenda in Mare.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Why develop a specific eating system for a favela like Mare? We are certain that our project must not only unveil residents' demands, but, also understand and make use of the entire set of singularities and social practices of Mare. Our greatest ambition for this project is to materialize – by practices, reflections and  methodologies – integrated and comprehensive actions that expand the field of social possibilities and residents of favelas' and peripheries' residents. To this effect, Mare de Sabores addresses gender and eating culture as a key tool for territorial development of Mare and Rio de Janeiro. Thus, we want to give due importance to agroecology as a possible mean for sustainable development in Mare. Since agroecology is not only a simple form of food production, its experience can contribute to strengthen the culture and education of Mare's residents. Mare de Sabores' goal is to teach women of Mare gastronomy alongside agroecology, providing theoretical and practical classes that meet a series of goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such as: achieving sustainable cultivation of organic food, combating climate changes, assuring quality education for future generations, gender equality and empowerment for women and girls.

With an improved food system, Mare’s population will be granted an adequate eating diet, which will improve basic life standards and ultimately inspire  public policies. Once organic food becomes a demand of favela residents, we will be in a very satisfactory level, making way open to project public policies for the favelas and the city.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Project Mare de Sabores is the key developer of our vision. The project ultimate goal is to encourage women's power and potency with gastronomy as a tool, based in agroecology, teaching recipes, cooking techniques and recovering Mare's eating culture, so as to promote new eating habits based on a healthy, organic and sustainable eating culture. The gastronomy course teaches both international and Brazilian gastronomy, always mentioning the importance of using local, fresh ingredients and organic, as opposed to processed food.  Given that the favelas are frequently portrayed with stigmas of want and violence, the course aims to prove that favelas are territories full of creativity, power and individual aspirations for wider rights - never fully granted nor acknowledged by the government. Several teaching modules enable women to work both in the formal market and to establish their own startup. In addition to the cooking practice, classes are complemented by gender and citizenship discussions, aimed to empower women and encourage them to think about autonomy, self-esteem, self-awareness and their role and rights in society. Mare de Sabores  also provides catering  services, which started in response to women’s demand to work on their own neighborhood and increase job and income creation there. By providing catering for private and institutional events, women are directly remunerated for their work. It increases their income and therefore, enables them to be financially autonomous  and reflect on gender issues,  often encouraging  women to break a financial cycle of dependency,  based on husbands’ impositions and repression. Such cycle is often responsible for perpetuating domestic violence in the favelas.

The bi-annual project is divided in 6 modules, with 3 modules for every 5 months. Gastronomy professional training and gender classes amount to 166 certified hours: (1) 90h of professional training in different fields of Gastronomy, with theoretical classes and cooking practices, always seeking high expectations and performance for every woman; (2) 40h "Gender, Work and Citizenship" class, aiming to create an environment for dialogue and reflection over themes likes gender equality, sexuality, racism and with critical perspective of how social issues affect women's economic, professional and existential life. (3) 32h Agroecology practice in Mare, with a group of up to 10 women, aiming to address means on how to produce organic food, create bonds with agroecological farmers, encourage agroecological  fairs and preserve eating traditional knowledge, by sharing experiences, trajectories and basic notions of agroecology entrepreneurship; (4) individual assistance to be carried out by an interdisciplinary team at the beginning and end of every semester, aiming to assess results for the cycle and seeking to guarantee an attentive listening that ensure access to rights.  Additionally, we are conduct a study in Mare with 800 residents to assess eating diets and risk prevention of chronical diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and cancer. The project gave birth to the “Casa das Mulheres" (The Women's House), a 3-storey building that has a professional and  fully-equipped kitchen and enough space for both gastronomy and citizenship  classes to be held. Additionally, the House offers advocacy for assisting women facing domestic violence, in addition to other professional training courses. The House is ultimately a place that welcomes and supports women from Mare. Professional training offered by the Project Mare de Sabores expanded towards becoming a business that generates work and income. The collective principle is strengthened and women feel individually valued within their community, being granted autonomy and rights awareness. Catering Mare de Sabores is a Social Business for three years now. This project aims to make it possible for Mare de Sabores to improve its sustainability and expand the social impact of its actions. Overall, 750 women from Mare were graduated by the course 10-year course. Educational, economic and professional profile of the women Redes da Mare have asisted show that: 40% have completed elementary school; 47% have started or finished high school; 28% are self-declared as unemployed; 24% work on an informal basis; only 19% have a formal labor bond; 7% work at home; 34% do not count with a fix income; 59% earn less than two minimum wages; 6% earn more than 2 minimum wages. In Mare, 45% of households are headed by women, who mostly conciliate education and familiar, domestic and professional responsibilities. According to IPEA research (Portrait of Gender Inequality and Race - Retrato das Desigualdades de Gênero e Raça, 2011), from 1999 to 2009, families headed by mothers in Brazil increased fives times. This data gives us a dimension of the great responsability and challenges women and mothers face for and while entering the labor market, thus justifying the need for women to expand their habilities and professional network. The feasibility of the vision finds grounds on the institutions long history of interventions for social and territorial development. Redes da Mare origins dates back to 1997, with the engagement of residents and former residents of one of the 16 favelas that make up the Mare Complex. They belonged to the slight 0.5% of Mare's population who excelled in entering the University. Alongside, they were engaged in communitarian social movements that struggled for achieving basic rights, like: education, health, culture, sewage, street light, security and others. Their aim was, since the institutions’ origin, to develop a long-term intervention in Mare that could identify and overcome a series of factors that limited their residents daily exercise of citizenship.  The first action undertaken by the founders of Redes da Mare was the creation of a Communitarian Preparatory Course for university entrance exams.  In the long-term, this initiative has achieved concrete results: since then, over 1,200 residents of Mare excelled in entering universities.  In 2007, Redes da Maré became a legal institution. Its utmost principles are that the exercise of residents' citizenship must be sustained by a comprehensive and processual project that  gives due value to the social role and collective actions of favela citizens, and that difference and diversity must be respected and valued. A series of local positive actions and experiences were since then constructed, guided by the principle that we all live in a city where everyone should have the right to access the city's resources, regardless  the region where they live. Redes da Mare's key strategy is that residents themselves must formulate and take actions for the implementation of the proposed projects, but not only.  The idea of encounter and of valuing different experiences for living the city must lead to a constant exchange of experiences.  Accordingly, the institutions’ unique characteristic is its communitarian approach, with a strong presence of Mare's residents in its construction and development. Undoubtedly, children, adolescents and youngsters of Mare find themselves among local inspirations that help them to construct their social and educational trajectories, contributing to expand their social times and space. Redes da Mare has been establishing along its trajectory a series of bonds with civil society and governmental institutions: universities, research institutions, public branches and private companies, NGOs and individual. Having built such expanded networks could enable a series and territorial interventions and projects in Mare. Within these years 13 years, Redes da Mare has proved its importance for overcoming a series of rights violations in the Mare Favela. Thus, it has engaged residents and other actors towards constructing a structuring agenda in the field of rights and guaranties for the region. Redes da Mare works toward creating forums for community discussions regarding matters of common interest for a Sustainable Development of Mare and structural transformations; fostering communitarian engagement by training local actors; seeking for partnerships with local institutions, so as to construct a Network of social engagement of Mare; promoting free education and defend the access of popular segments to quality education; creating different means of communitarian communication by consolidating a Communication Core; promote the defense, preservation and conservation of the environment; develop projects in the field of art and culture, communication, health, sport, income generation, insertion in the labor market and communitarian development; develop actions geared to ethnic minorities, racial, gender and sexual orientation matters, so as to combat prejudice and discrimination; combat different forms of violence and social inequalities that harm Mare' s population; develop projects and studies and actions in the field of human rights, especially regarding public security and food sovereignty; develop researches and build archives of Mare and other popular spaces by fostering the Core of Studies for Popular Spaces and the Core of Identity and Memory. Additionally, Redes da Mare grant residents free access to services, programs, projects, benefits and the defense of rights. It develops film and audiovisual production; contributes to enhance life conditions of people who are excluded from the labor formal market, by experimenting non-profitable and partner-based models and alternative production systems; encourage fair trade practices and solidarity economy; develop culture and arts activities, including theater, scenic arts, spectacles and editorial production. Finally, gastronomy is a key tool for territorial development in Mare for constructing the present vision Redes da Maré proposes for the Food System Vision Prize.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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