Places of Food – Brazil: Pininga, a hidden gem in the sand dunes of Atins

Vegan in Brazil? Brace yourself! Finding plant-based meals during my latest trip along the Northeast coast of Brazil was somewhat of a pickle. I learnt first-hand that the area’s small fishing villages are more accustomed to meat eaters than strict plant lovers. Around the time I was ready to give up on a memorable restaurant experience, I was struck by Pininga’s magic, a charming little restaurant hidden in the sand dunes of Atins.

Welcome to paradise

Atins is a small town in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park famous for its dreamy white sandy lagoons. If there is heaven on earth then this place sure as hell qualifies. Forget walking on paved roads or driving a car here. Everything is covered in fine white sand. Cows, mules, horses, wild dogs roam around freely, unbeknownst to the sorrows of the world. Once a remote fishing village, now transitioning into tourism.

Besides its natural wonders, Atins’ beauty lies in its disconnectedness. There are no shortcuts to get here, even within Brazil it’s quite a journey. The ones who make it are either lovers of kitesurfing or explorers of breathtaking nature. Our trip included a car ride to Barreirinhas on roads that felt like they were hit by asteroids and an awe-inspiring boat ride of little less than an hour on the Preguiças River.

It takes a village

If you think that running a business is hard work, I want you to dream up a restaurant in the context of Atins. Besides its remoteness, take access to clean drinking water, sewage and waste treatment out of the equation. This is what a self-organizing community looks like. You make do with what you have.

After a long journey we arrived at Pininga Restaurant, a wooden dome under the stars. A new, down to earth restaurant operating with a menu of two options that change every day. One vegetarian (vegan upon request) and another from local sea food. The warm welcome and details of the space stole my heart in an instance.

Two caipirinhas and three courses later I was sold. Jessica’s watermelon carpaccio, gorgonzola ravioli, homemade bread, polenta with cashew sauce and black bean brownie knocked me and my travel mates out of our flipflops. In addition to unique taste combinations, the presentation was just spot on. The atmosphere and the openness of the team elevated the experience even higher. A star-restaurant experience, only barefoot under the stars for a reasonable price. Naturally, one evening lead to another.

Pininga philosophy

In addition to another fantastic supper, I returned for a talk with the owners about food and hospitality from an environmental perspective. I was lucky to learn about some ways in which they conduct their business.

My personal favorites include their ‘banana toilet’, a stylish intersection of a banana plantation and a water closet, i.e. self-built septic system that ensures that sewage is released gradually, broken down and sanitized. One man’s waste another man’s banana. I also learnt about Pininga’s ‘cascade kitchen drainage’, a step-by-step filtration system to safely dispose of wastewater. Nifty, right?

In addition to clever ways of constructing their restaurant, the owners pay conscious effort to implementing principles of sustainability in their everyday work. For instance, they go the extra mile of repeatedly refusing plastic packaging of vegetable deliveries and only order beverages from reusable bottles. And the single use bottles that do end up on their terrain, well they just use them up as building material for bathroom floors or kitchen walls. Small steps, big impact.

A blessing in disguise

I come to realize that the remoteness of Atins is a blessing in disguise. The rough circumstances present an opportunity for people to create something truly unique. By tapping into some of the material flows one quickly gets an idea what it takes to rock a business as such.

What if we were all alike Pininga, forced to deal with the environmental consequences of our actions? How would the world look like if we didn’t have systems in place to clean up our mess and allow us to be disconnected from the reality of our consumer choices? What if we all took a step back and stopped taking things for granted? What about common sense?

There are several schools of thought about how to counteract climate change. Reality is however such that the biggest part of the world still operates based on a linear model. We take, make and dispose while turning a blind eye on the consequences. Anyone who dares to challenge the status quo quickly realizes that opportunities often depend on where you are, and what you have in your pocket. As follows, I did not expect to find champions of circular economy and planetary health hidden in the sand dunes of Atins. Little did I know.

It’s been my pleasure to meet Pininga’s sustainability champions. Besides sharing great meals, seeing smart solutions showcasing some of the ideas Circular Economy was founded on, I learnt that sustainability can be quite simple. Conducting life in a way that makes sense not only on the short, but on the long run. Thinking globally and acting locally. It’s my hope we can all learn from such encounters and start making change in the communities we live in.

Unlock the path to Pininga

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

Jane Goodall