Updated: May 21, 2020
The Crafty Pickle team were recently lucky to be able to take a jaunt over to the beautiful country of Israel. Perhaps politics aside there is a LOT to love about this country... the beaches, sun, quirky architecture, mesh of religions and cultures, friendly people and not to mention THE FOOD. It's safe to say Israel has ruined houmous and falafel for us... never will we be able to match the dizzy heights of deliciousness.
Naturally, we were always on the look-out for fermented foods and the food waste practices that are in place. We actually got to experience very different sides of this. The picture below is taken from right outside our door when we were staying within Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, a busy market trading in all types of food (I mean ALL) as well as trinkets, clothes etc. But every day when the main trading of the market was over, any produce that was no longer sell-able was thrown into the streets and washed away to clean the market up for next days display of perfect goods. Needless to say this made our toes curl and we had to be held back from taking as much of it home as we could!
But, when we made our way North to Haifa for our friend’s wedding a few days later we got to see a totally different side of how surplus or imperfect produce is treated in Israel. Yotam (the groom) and his family are pretty well connected in Haifa and his parent’s put us in touch with Shai who owns Robin Food in Hadar, Haifa. When we learnt that Robin Food is a social enterprise which takes unloved fruit and veg and transforms it into beautiful vegan dishes, we were chomping at the bit to take a look! Here's what we learnt from our voyage to Robin Food...
Robin Food began life as a community meal set-up using food rescued from local markets and shared with hungry people by Shai (who is only 26!) and his sister. They started Robin Food from their house when they noticed how much food was going to waste at markets, wholesalers and retail outlets. This eventually grew arms and legs and they expanded to their awesome kitchen and established a ‘pay-as-you-can café’ about a year ago; but it looks like they’ve been there forever with their cozy atmosphere and careful decorations.
We had a million questions for both Shai and Yaara (who we think is their manager) about how the set-up works and all the awesome food-waste-fighting work they’ve been doing. As you can see from the pictures this place isn’t exactly tiny so it’s amazing they run with just 6 paid employees (chefs, managers, the ceo and events manager).
Everyone else is a volunteer, whether that be for a couple of weeks or several months - we heard about Ben, a volunteer from the States, who stayed for 7 months! They have such a great set-up to treat their volunteers right, although Yaara modestly said that these volunteers “come and give their time, getting very little in return.” She gave great emphasis to Israeli volunteers who have full time jobs but still selflessly help out in whatever way they can.
One kind soul even donated money so they could have a flat (the Robin Room!) dedicated entirely to their long-term volunteers so they have somewhere to stay. Their local friends also provide sofas and spare rooms for short-term volunteers to crash. These guys must have some serious supporters!
Shai gave us a brief insight into how their ‘food rescues’ work so that they have fruit and veg to use in their ever-changing daily menu. Every day a handful of dedicated volunteers get up at 4/5am to go to a local wholesale market and pick up all the fruit and veg that’s just been set aside and considered as waste by local merchants. Shai said they regularly get around 400kg!! This is obviously written into these businesses’ costs and before Robin Food, would have just gone in the bin…
This constitutes most of the unloved food that Robin Food saves, but they sometimes get ugly produce that won’t sell in shops and they have a deal with the largest organic chain in Israel to provide some surplus also.
We were curious as to why the café is vegan-only and Shai gave us several sensible reasons. Firstly, they did it on a logistical basis as plant products are the most commonly wasted food meaning they can save more. Secondly, from a food safety perspective, dealing with meat, fish, dairy etc (especially if they can’t guarantee the way it’s been handled) comes with more concerns about storage and longevity. But any animal products they do manage to get their hands on they don’t waste but they distribute to their volunteers.
Shai made it very clear that the main goal of the organisation is to educate about food waste, how important it is to all of us and how just by doing things a bit differently we can change our food system for the better. Could agree with you more there Shai!
We were sold on the idea even before chatting with Shai, so you might have guessed we enjoyed a delicious meal (above) prepared by their chef and volunteers. Thank god for foccaccia fridays! The meal had no price attached to it, only a suggestion for customers to ‘pay what you think it's worth OR what you can afford.’ This is a powerful and impactful way to express that food is a RIGHT not a privilege. There is far too much food wasted in the world and too many people left hungry. We need more businesses like this!
And if you ever get a chance to go to Israel, you HAVE to check this place out!
Big photo credits to Bina Prajapat & Peter Haggett and big hook-up credits to the Berants!!