Charles Bronfman Prize recipient shares his story in New York

The idea for Gastromotiva came from Hertz’s desire to connect to people and places and “the opportunity to give people dignity and use food as a universal language,” he said.

David Hertz (photo credit: MARTIN IROM)
David Hertz
(photo credit: MARTIN IROM)
David Hertz, the Jewish social entrepreneur from Brazil who was named the winner of the 2019 Charles Bronfman Prize in recognition of his efforts to relieve global hunger, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday during his visit to New York City.
Thirteen years ago, Hertz co-founded Gastromotiva, a Brazilian-based social gastronomy organization that fights unemployment and social inequality, and uses cooking and nutrition classes as tools to “create opportunities for those living on the margins of society,” the 45-year-old explained.
Hertz never intended to become an entrepreneur. In 1992 he was an 18-year-old living on a kibbutz, working alongside Israelis, Palestinians and European tourists.
“I realized I didn’t need to go back home, instead I could explore the world,” Hertz said. “The kibbutz opened up the world for me,” inspiring him to become a “professional backpacker.”
Observing poverty firsthand while backpacking through India was “touching,” Hertz said. Upon returning home to Brazil he worked as a chef in a five-star restaurant, but felt something was missing. He couldn’t stop thinking about the following statistic: one of every nine people go to bed each night with an empty stomach, with almost 800 million people in the world suffering from chronic undernourishment, according to World Food Programme.
 “Something came to me: my travels were not about a way for me to make money but were about connecting to people and places,” he said. “That’s what you learn as backpacker.”
The idea for Gastromotiva came from Hertz’s desire to connect to people and places, and “the opportunity to give people dignity and use food as a universal language.”
Since 2006, the organization has graduated 5,500 cooks in free vocational kitchen training, entrepreneurial classes and nutrition classes in El Salvador, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. Hertz emphasized that fighting food waste is not the focus on Gastromotiva but rather a small part of the curriculum, and that the organization only cooks with foods that didn’t sell in the supermarket.
Gastromotiva also serves homeless people three-course meals nightly with volunteers as waiters.
Hertz credits his Jewish education as inspiration for his social entrepreneurship.
“The Jewish values are the core foundation on my path and learning journey,” he said. “I try to feed humanity because I was raised on the beliefs of kavod – respect for people, God, the environment and community.”
Hertz added that his values don’t solely come from religion.
“I was born Jewish and that gave me grounding for my life and gives me opportunities, but I believe my point of view is wider than being Jewish – it’s just being a citizen,” he said.
The Charles Bronfman Prize is an annual award of $100,000 presented to a humanitarian under 50 whose innovative work, informed by Jewish values, has significantly improved the world. Hertz spent the past week in New York City, where he met with donors and had the opportunity to connect with American-Canadian billionaire Charles Bronfman and his daughter Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, who founded the prize in 2004 to honor her father’s 70th birthday.
“From his time living in Israel as an 18-year-old, to his international travels and in his own community in Brazil, David uses every opportunity to build community, using his skills to help people transform their lives,” the elder Bronfman told the Post. “He is incredibly inspiring.”
The inspiration was mutual.
“Meeting Charles and Ellen yesterday made me think of where I want to be 40 years from now,” said Hertz. “I want to change the system surrounding sustainable food, and keep using food so human beings can be humans. I hope the prize will bring more attention to the social gastronomy cause. There are so many places in the world in need of social gastronomy.”
Hertz said that he will use the prize money to “finally invest in myself so that I can keep investing in social change,” adding that “it’s so easy to forget about yourself; you need to be in health and prosperity in order to bring this to others.”
What’s next for Hertz after he invests in himself?
My next dream is to create a social gastronomy hub in Jerusalem,” he said. “I want to bring opportunities and dignity to everyone around. I have a plan for Jerusalem – it will happen when I have the right people. Everything comes at the right time.”