The chef who revolutionized food in a favela in Rio de Janeiro

The chef who revolutionized food in a favela in Rio de Janeiro

“I used to be horribly picky about food,” admits Regina Tchelly, a 35-year-old cook and businesswoman who lives in Morro da Babilônia, a Rio de Janeiro favela. Over the past six years, however, as director of the Favela Orgânica project, Regina has already taught more than 30,000 people how to grow their discarded foods into delicacies, and to convert what cannot be used in the kitchen - a relatively short list if follow his advice- compost for your own vegetables in small spaces, to transform banana skins, broccoli stalks, pumpkin peels and other raw materials that any home garden makes.

Food waste is far from being an insignificant problem, both in Brazil and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global food waste and waste account for around a third of all food produced. Brazil is one of the ten countries with the highest consumption, according to the World Resources Institute, with around 40,000 tons of food wasted each year.

Born thousands of kilometers from Rio, in Serraria, a town of 6,000 inhabitants in the state of Paraíba, Regina grew up in an environment where no part of the vegetables was wasted. “Things like seeds, which we don't use in meals, were made into snacks or used in traditional medicine, or to feed livestock. So I don't see myself doing something innovative. What I do is revitalize practices that were always part of traditional Brazilian cuisine, such as feijoada ”, he says, referring to the famous pork and black bean stew invented by African slaves, in which the ears and tail of the pig are even used. .

The founder of Favela Orgânica came to Rio as a teenager and worked as a domestic worker for many years until she decided to apply for funding from the Agencia de Redes Para la Juventud, a government program for small-scale social entrepreneurship. That was in 2011, when Regina established the first workshop in her own home.

“In the first week we had six people participating. In the fourth there were 40 from all social classes: from the favelas of Rio, and also from Japan, Italy and France, he says. Working with international participants helped us connect the project with the slowfood movement and other similar initiatives around the world. "

Soda or organic lettuce

An important part of Regina's efforts is to return the attention of the people of the Brazilian favelas to real food. “Actually, it's a bit surreal. In the favelas, people sometimes end up spending 12 reais [about $ 60] on a single bottle of Coca-Cola, but refuse to pay two reais [$ 10] for organic lettuce. We have to change this, ”he says.

How can it be achieved? According to Regina, it takes a lot of love, patience and the will to change: “My main concern is creating a kind of gastronomy that is not elitist. My recipes try to create a food that is beautiful and that also has a lot of affective memory; something your grandmother could cook for you ”.

For Regina it is important to show people that they can grow at least some of their food themselves, a great challenge in the cramped houses of most favelas. “Any place with a little sun is sufficient. You can even fill a shelf with some dirt, put it on the wall and grow some vegetables, or spices, even tomatoes, ”he says.

Anita de Oliveira Santos, a 42-year-old nursing assistant from Morro da Babilônia, says that taking part in Regina's workshops was a revelation for her. "It was the first time I participated in community activities in my favela, and at first I was incredulous," she confesses. The recipes that caught his eye were the banana brigadeiro (a traditional Brazilian sweet, usually made with condensed milk and powdered chocolate) and the watermelon rind risotto. "We call it natural Viagra," says Anita, laughing.

“My son and my husband kept saying they weren't going to eat anything made with peels and rinds. I cooked the brigadeiro anyway and left it in the fridge. When I came home after work, there was nothing left. My husband didn't believe it when I told him I had eaten a banana skin brigadeiro, ”he says.

Regina is about to bring her recipes and advice to a wider audience - her debut as the host of her own TV show is scheduled for August. "When it comes to avoiding food waste, I am convinced there is no going back," she says. The whole world is clamoring for this new approach and a country like Brazil, with the enormous biodiversity we have, has no choice but to follow it ”.

By Reinaldo José Lopes

The nation

Video: BOPE - O Lado Obscuro do Rio (January 2022).