New cookbook aims to prevent food waste in Czech households

Photo: archive of Zachraň Jídlo

Creamy soup from leftover mashed potatoes or vinegar made from fruit and vegetable scraps - these are just some of the many recipes included in a new cook book by the Initiative Zachraň Jídlo or Save Food. Its aim is to teach Czech consumers to reduce household waste by providing tips and recipes using food scraps, leftovers and surplus seasonal ingredients.

Photo: archive of Zachraň Jídlo

I met with Adam Podhola, one of the founders of Zachraň Jídlo, to discuss the cook book and I started by asking him about the initial idea behind the project.

“We would like to give people a practical manual how to cut food waste in their households, because today, 50 percent of all the food waste in the EU comes from households.

“People often lack inspiration and practical tips. With his book we would like to give them really something practical that they can learn and use in their homes and save thousands of crowns a year by not wasting food.”

Adam Podhola,  photo: archive of Zachraň Jídlo
How much food is being wasted here in the Czech Republic?

“We still don’t really have exact numbers. We are still missing some profound research in this area. But according to the average numbers from the European Parliament, it is around 81 kilos per person per year, within the whole food chain. In the European Union it is around 88 million tonnes of food being wasted every year.”

Is the Czech Republic any different from other EU countries in terms of food waste?

“The European average is 170 kilogrammes a year, so in this respect we could be considered as smaller wasters. But, as I mentioned before, we still lack exact data here. The Mendel University has recently launched a research which should provide us with some exact number within the next year or two.”

In what way is your cookbook different from other books focusing on the topic of food waste?

“We really wanted to provide the Czech aspect, so we looked at the ingredients which were wasted the most in Czech households. We focused on bread, vegetables fruit, meat and milk. We wanted to underline some of those ingredients.

“Our cookbook is not just about recipes. We also wanted to put some stories in it from the Czech reality. So we have a story of a farmer from the town of Lysá nad Labem who produces lettuces. We map the journey of a lettuce, looking at sources that are needed to grow it and following it until it is sent to a shop.

“People are becoming more conscious about their food choices and they are willing to spend more money on food.”

“We also invited different Czech food bloggers who are also interested in the idea of sustainable kitchen. So we also asked them if they wanted to participate with one recipe and for each category in the cookbook we have one food blogger or a chef.”

The preface of the book was written by a famous Italian chef Massimo Boturra. How did he get involved in the project?

“That was a very funny story. My boyfriend is from Canada and his parents’ neighbour, back in Nova Scotia, had a friend Petr Svátek, who is director of a documentary called Theatre of Life.

“The film shows the work of Massimo Bottura, one of the most renowned chefs in the world. He was mentioning it and I knew MB was also a big campaigner against food waste and I just got this idea that he could connect us and I would ask him if he could somehow participate in our cookbook.

“So we exchanged a few emails with Petr Svátek, the director, and connected us with Massimo through his colleagues, and he just said yes. We asked him if he could write us a preface for the cookbook and we are really delighted.”

Photo: archive of Zachraň Jídlo

So what kind of leftovers can be usually found in Czech fridges? What ingredients did you focus on in your recipes?

One of the basic ingredients is bread, so we have lots of recipes with bread, such as the Parmigiano for the poor, where you can use the breadcrumbs with a little bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil or sweet French fries, where you can make a dessert out of old bred with a bit of cinnamon and butter.

“Often people throw away part of vegetables that are still edible, such as leaves from kohlrabi or beetroot, which are still good for salads. Carrot leaves can be used for a great pesto.

“Often people lack creativity when they have surplus rice or potatoes, which are a great base to make a pudding or a quiche or a frittata.

“We would like to give people a practical manual how to cut food waste in their households, because 50 percent of all the food waste in the EU comes from households.”

“We also included advantages of fruits and vegetables. There are easy ways how we can conserve them into jams and chutneys or dry them, so we also wanted to underline techniques of preserving the food and use it later.”

You collected the money for the publishing of your book through a crowdfunding campaign, which was enormously successful. Within the first two days you collected one third of the target sum.

“We really had no idea what to expect. We knew we had a big community of supporters. It was our first time we did a crowdfunding campaign. So we were really happy to learn that we managed to collect all the money needed within a week.

“It also gave us the courage to ask for more in exchange of additional recipes and pages in the book. So eventually we collected over 50 percent more of the total amount. It was amazing and we are really grateful.”

Is this a sign that people are becoming increasingly aware of the problem of food waste?

“I think it is definitely a trend. People, also due to higher wages, are becoming more conscious about their food choices and they are willing to spend also more money on food, at least I think in the bigger cities.

“Also within the last months, what we can hear from the media and from the reports about climate change, how food production and consumption is linked to climate change, people are becoming more aware.

“Definitely the way how we treat food, how we cook, what choices e make, it is becoming a big issue for people and I am sure they are willing to learn how they can be better consumption.”

Photo: archive of Zachraň Jídlo

One of the trends today is to cut down meat consumption in order to reduce global warming. Why have you decided to include meat recipes? Was it an issue for you?

“It was an issue, exactly for the reasons that you are mentioning. I think that people will still be buying and consuming meat in the next at least three decades. As you say, meat production has the biggest impact on the environment.

“For this reason it is important to know how to handle the food, what are the costs of meat production in terms of water and greenhouse emissions on the climate. So we decided to include some meat recipes with lots of information about the costs.

“We also decided to look at the less frequently used parts of the meat, such as the entrails, because we often tend to use only the prime parts of the animals.

Photo: archive of Zachraň Jídlo
“We also included an interview with a butcher who provides some tips how to use meat. He also explains why we shouldn't be afraid to use these parts more.”

How long did it take from the initial idea to the publishing of the book?

“It took us almost two years. We had the idea maybe three years ago, but the actual writing of the book started about half a year ago.”

What have you yourself learned throughout the process?

“None of us had any experience with putting a book together, so we learned a lot in terms of what needs to be done from this point of view. We also learned that it’s great to include a lot of people with a great know-how into it and learn more through the whole process. So it was pretty tough but it was a fun project.

Is there any particular recipe that you would like to share with our listeners?

“Most of the recipes were prepared by my colleagues Bára Kebová and Zuzka Štěpničková. In a small NGO you often have to take different roles, so I also participated as a food stylist and I also had a chance to also eat most of the things that were cooked, which was really a fun part.

“The other day we were doing this soup from mashed potatoes. So if you have some leftover mash potatoes and add some heavy cream, some thyme and nutmeg, you can create a great soup. This is one of the things I like about these recipes. They are easy to make and provide you with a whole new experience.”