Brazilian Chef Repurposes Food Waste to Feed Her Community

Chef Regina Tchelly uses traditional practices to help her community.

Fight food waste with this traditional Brazilian dish.

(I and S Walker / Shutterstock.com)

As the world grows more conscious of eco-friendly practices, the food supply chain has emerged as an area ready to improve its sustainability. Scores of companies have answered the call to reduce food waste and are adopting creative solutions aimed at repurposing leftover food.

One Brazilian chef is proving that people, not just companies, have the power to reduce food waste food, according to Yes! Magazine. Chef Regina Tchelly, 39,  is using traditional practices to artfully repurpose leftover food, feeding and economically empowering her community, via her social enterprise Favela Orgânica.  

She discovered her life’s mission in 2001 when she moved from a small town in northeastern Brazil to the Babilônia favela (slum)on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Tchelly was stunned by the amount of edible food she saw thrown away daily in the city’s markets because she had grown up with the knowledge of how to use every part of the fruits and vegetables available.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Regina Tchelly (@favela_organica)

“Here [in Rio de Janeiro], there was always certain food that people are prejudiced towards,” she told travel site The Culture Trip. “It’s these discriminated foods, like a banana skin [peel], a broccoli stem, a corn leaf, that I believe people can start to look at as food and not as a waste product.”

Favela Orgânica began as a grassroots project, with Tchelly teaching small groups of women from her neighborhood how to repurpose leftover food sourced from local markets and grow their own produce on their balconies and in their yards.

“It started in my house with $140 BRL ($38) with six stay-at-home moms,” she said in an interview with Culture Trip. “We wanted to bring a new approach to the food inside our houses. It was from this [that] Favela Orgânica grew. With these six moms, it became ten, then it became 15, then it was 50, and then the world welcomed the project.”

As Tchelly’s classes grew in popularity, she expanded her offerings to courses such as urban gardening for small spaces, home composting, and conscious consumption according to Yes! Magazine. All of these are skills that are badly need in the favelas around Rio

But the benefits of Tchelly’s courses go beyond helping increase sustainability. Providing her courses free of charge to locals, the residents learn tips and tricks on repurposing food waste that helps them save money on their grocery bills. 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Regina Tchelly (@favela_organica)

One of Tchelly’s students, Ivonides Silva, utilized the skills she learned in the class to start a small baking business. She sells some five cakes a month, netting her around 240 reais ($42). The extra income from the project is a huge boost to her family. “Tchelly gives us the tools to have the autonomy to create a small business to make some money,” Silva told Yes! Magazine.

While the project originally focused on combating food waste and food insecurity, Tchelly has added self-care practices to the agenda. In the favela, where crime and poverty are issues that affect the residents’ health, she has integrated meditation and yoga into a number of her classes.

Tchelly’s programs have attracted attention from the Brazilian Entrepreneurial Alliance, who awarded her with the Prêmio Aliança Empreendedora prize. She gave a TEDx talk in 2016 in Sao Paulo, and now hosts the program Amor de Cozinha which translates to  Love in the Kitchen that is broadcast on Brazilian TV and online. 

Tchelly  is a powerful example of how an individual community activist can make a huge difference. Working with limited resources in an impoverished area, she was able to revolutionize her neighbors’ relationships to food. “My idea was to democratize real food, so to allow everybody to be able to access it,” Tchelly said

With no signs of slowing down, Favela Orgânica continues to spark change from the ground up. The positive environmental and social impacts of Tchelly’s programs set the stage for a healthier future for all.

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