Harnessing Food Waste to Empower Communities in Brazil
By Agostino Pestroni
Take a dozen banana peels, wash them gently with a brush under running water, then chop them into small pieces. Next, blend the peels with five spoons of cacao and a cup of ice water. Once the lumps have been removed, place the mixture in a hot, buttered pan and stir it for five minutes. Let it cool down to thicken, and then roll the resulting dough into small spheres. Lastly, dip the balls into sesame or peanut powder, and you'll have a brigadeiro, an iconic Brazilian dessert.
But this is not the standard version of the sweet: It's a unique variant created by Regina Tchelly, a 39-year-old Brazilian chef and resident of Rio de Janeiro's Babilônia slum.
"I always wanted to be a chef, but not a normal one," Tchelly says.
In 2001, Tchelly moved from a small town in northeastern Brazil to the favelas, or slums, of Rio looking for a better future for her and her daughter. She initially worked as a housemaid, a common profession for women coming into the city from poorer areas. But the longer she shopped at the local markets, the more she grew disappointed by the amount of food being thrown out each day.
Back in her hometown, she had learned to use all parts of the fruits and vegetables she prepared, and she couldn't make peace with the wastefulness of the city. She knew that the thrown-away peels, seeds, and rinds held precious nutritional value. Tchelly has since worked to give a second life to food that would otherwise go to waste. She shows that repurposing food waste is not only a solution to the problem of access to healthy food, but also one remedy to help address a broken social system.
Regina Tchelly giving a talk about the impact of food on health in a Rio de Janeiro hospital. Favela Organica
Democratizing Real Food
The difficulty of making ends meet in rural areas of Brazil is one of the reasons for migration within the country. Small farmers leave their homes to crowd into the favelas of the megalopolis, where they can no longer afford the quality of food they used to produce on their land.
About 1.5 million people live in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, known as the Cidade maravilhosa, or city of wonder. Electricity, running water, and sanitation systems are often lacking in those informal settlements long neglected by the government, and life is tough for those who live in them. Food insecurity is one of the most significant divides between the favelas and wealthy areas of Rio: In the slums, many rely on government-subsidized schools, food banks, or junk food to feed their children.
It's a matter of affordability rather than supply, though. Food abounds in Brazil. A 2014 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization listed Brazil as the world's third-largest exporter of agricultural products. Yet 5 million people still suffer from malnutrition.
"My idea was to democratize real food, so to allow everybody to be able to access it," Tchelly says.
In 2011, Tchelly gave her first course on how to cook with food scraps to six other housekeepers in her slum, which led her to create a social enterprise called Favela Organica. Her goal was to teach others how to repurpose food waste produced by Rio's markets, and to learn how to grow produce on their balconies and in their yards. Tchelly's project relies on the idea of an integrated food cycle: growing food, utilizing it all, and creating compost with what's left to fertilize a garden.
A class on how to use juicing residue for skin care. Favela Organica
Favela Organica's work focuses on the cycle of life and uses yoga and meditation as part of its classes. Favela Organica
While Tchelly initially aimed at tackling food waste, her project soon turned into something more powerful. With the pandemic and the resulting food insecurity spreading widely within the crowded favelas, what Regina Tchelly ultimately provides is a way for people to gain dignity by making their own nutritious food. She's part of the Terra Madre network, a global movement of food producers, chefs, and academics who believe that through a holistic approach to food, communities affected by systemic social disparities can regain power over what they eat, which is the first step towards self-determination.
Innovating for Food Justice
The balcony of Favela Organica overlooks the famous Copacabana Beach. A small vegetable garden adds to the produce coming from local farmers who donate to Tchelly what they cannot sell. Tchelly's workplace is a forest of hanging pans and pots, with a cooking station for two people and a larger space where she gave free classes to 60 people at a time — until the pandemic hit. Now she offers her courses online.
Tchelly supports the free lessons for residents of the favela. She covers her costs with the income earned from her high-end catering services and the money she receives from giving talks around the world, or winning prizes such as the Prêmio Aliança Empreendedora from the Brazilian Entrepreneurial Alliance. Over the years, Tchelly has built up enough recognition for her work that, in 2016, she was invited to San Paolo to give a TEDx Talk. Since she began offering courses, Tchelly has taught some 30,000 people, mostly women, around Brazil how to regain power over the food they eat.
'Tabuli de broccoli,' a salad created by Tchelly made with broccoli stems. Favela Organica
The only requirement to attend Tchelly's classes is that attendees must develop a new recipe to bring to market from the widely available food scraps of Rio de Janeiro. Last year, Ivonides Silva, 54, joined one of the classes.
"When you go to the market, you spend 10 reais ($2) and use seeds, fruit, and everything else," Silva says. By cooking this way, nothing goes to waste, and Silva has been saving money on groceries.
As her final project, Silva transformed pumpkin rinds and seeds — parts of the fruit that are usually thrown away — into flour, which she then used to bake a cake. Her classmates liked it, so she began selling more cakes to neighbors and at the salon where she works as a hairdresser. She now sells about five cakes each month, which adds 240 reais ($42) to her income. If it wasn't for the pandemic, Silva says, she could sell many more.
"Tchelly gives us the tools to have the autonomy to create a small business to make some money," Silva says. In the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where people make on average 734 reais ($130) a month, the supplementary income from the sale of cakes is a welcome help.
Tchelly at a food bank in Curitiba, Brazil, teaching how to make pumpkin risotto. Favela Organica
Maria Beatriz Martins Costa, CEO of Green Rio, a network that advocates for fairer and better food, is fond of Tchelly's work, but told me that to have a greater impact, projects like Tchelly's need more public support. According to a report by the International Institute of Sustainable Development, limited access to food is not the result of lack of food availability, but of its unaffordability for many Brazilians. The Brazilian government has worked toward reducing social inequality in the past two decades with programs like the Zero Hunger Program, which aims to give all Brazilians enough good and nutritious food through a series of multi-sectoral public policies. Thanks to this program, the country was removed from the FAO's world hunger map in 2014.
But malnutrition problems remain, and the pandemic is accentuating them.
Growing one's own food can help, which is why Tchelly and many other activists around the world also teach students how to grow urban gardens.
"This kind of agriculture is important because it gives you support," says Costa, who sees urban gardens as another expression of family farming. She believes family farmers play an essential role in future food scenarios and are critical in diminishing food and social disparities. About 77% of Brazil's farmers are family farmers (as opposed to agribusinesses), but they receive only 36% of the total industry revenues. According to Costa, the difference in income between small and large farms is partly because of a lack of logistics to distribute products and infrastructures to scale up.
Tchelly teaching a class at a food bank in Curitiba, Brazil, on how to use all parts of the produce. Favela Organica
"Public policies are fundamental," Costa says. Over the past 20 years, Brazil has constructed a robust food security policy that includes Safra, a credit program for family farmers, and a program that pushed schools to buy food from local small farms. But in 2019, the current government, led by President Jair Bolsonaro, eliminated the Consea, Conselho Nacional de Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional — a body that allowed Brazilian civil society to have a say in the formulation of food policies — a move that many fear is the first step toward deconstructing the country's food security policy.
Still, Costa believes that Brazil, with all its flaws, is working toward issuing policies that promote family farmers. For example, the country's current secretary for Family Agriculture and Cooperation, Fernando Schwanke, has created the first bioeconomy plan for biodiversity and family farming. Such policies, combined with entrepreneurial efforts like Tchelly's, could brighten Brazil's food future.
"Regina Tchelly was a pioneer and game-changer and deserves all credit as being a forerunner fighting for a change in the food system," Costa says. Tchelly, with her daily fieldwork, represents a larger, and often unseen, global movement that focuses on the roots of nutrition inequalities. Together, they are working to provide access to fairer, cleaner, and better food for all.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
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By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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