Eco Entrepreneur Q&A: Jessica Chapnik Kahn

Photo: Jon Bader

Photo: Jon Bader

In Australia, one in five shopping bags end up in our bins, equalling $3,800 worth of groceries per household each year.

At the same time, nearly four million people experience food insecurity, one quarter of which are children.

Those figures come from OzHarvest, a food rescue charity that collects good quality excess food from commercial outlets such as supermarkets, restaurants and catering companies, and distributes it to those in need, thus diverting countless tonnes of food waste from landfill.

Given we’re passionate about combating food waste at A Life Lived Lightly I jumped at the opportunity to speak with singer-songwriter and actor Jessica Chapnik Kahn, who has collaborated with OzHarvest to write a children’s book called Lenny and the Ants.

Lenny and the Ants tells the story of Lenny the kangaroo who learns the true value of food (and the issue of food waste) from a group of harvester ants. There are also plenty of recipes in the book and the proceeds from its sale will go directly to OzHarvest.

Jessica and I spoke about what inspired her to write about Lenny and the importance of the book’s message. We also chatted about how she tries to reduce food waste in her own home and how she is teaching her son (two-year-old Lev) to care for the planet.

What inspired you to write Lenny and the Ants?

Becoming a mother to my little boy Lev Vishnu inspired me to put pen to paper. He loves stories.

It was around the time he turned one that I finally put my head down and wrote it out. I’d had the idea for this story for years actually. I’d heard a parable in India once that involved ants and their incredible resourcefulness.

So when Ronni (Jessica’s mother-in-law is Ronni Kahn, OzHarvest’s founder and CEO) asked me if I knew any writers that she could commission to write a story about food and sustainability, I handed in my draft. I loved the idea of putting a message of that nature into a fun, warm-hearted story.

Photo: OzHarvest

Photo: OzHarvest

Tell us more about that message. What are you hoping children (and adults) will learn from reading Lenny and the Ants?

The message of the book is so simple: Food is special and valuable. Sharing food is a beautiful joy. Thinking about food in imaginative ways can change our lives for the better.

You’ve collaborated with OzHarvest in the past, when you released your album OH in 2014. Aside from the family connection it must be a charity that’s close to your heart.

I met my husband, Nadav, around 15 years ago, which is exactly when OzHarvest began. In those days, Ronni had her own event coordination business, and she would often call Nadav and I to deliver the leftover food from her events to a nearby shelter.

OzHarvest was super grassroots then – a small solution to a problem Ronni had in her personal business.

We were using her business van to collect the food, and then we’d turn up at a shelter with trays and trays of beautiful and perfect food that would otherwise have gone in the trash.

The shelters were always so grateful, and you could tell that this food was making such a difference to so many people. They really counted on it.

So OzHarvest will always have a very special place in my heart because I’ve seen the incredible value of the work close up and firsthand.

What are some of the ways you try to cut down on food waste in your own home?

Some of the main ways I try to reduce our food waste is by avoiding buying any veggies until I’ve used every single one in my fridge; freezing anything I think will expire before I use it; using leftovers to make other dishes; and composting our food waste.

Have you started to teach Lev about the importance of caring for the environment? What are some of the ways we can teach little ones about the impact we have on our planet?

Well, there’s the obvious things like recycling, repurposing and composting, which Lev is involved in and really loves doing.

But my favourite thing we do is attending a community garden playgroup. Every week he gets his hands in the soil, waters plants, digs things. He has a taste of strawberries or cherry tomatoes or whatever else is growing there.

He loves smelling and trying different herbs. Sometimes he gobbles them up (mint) or spits them out (thyme).

I think the best way for a toddler to learn about the environment is to have them experience it. Feel soil. Plant seeds. Care for a plant. Water a tree. Whatever it is, it creates a sense of awe and wonder. It’s a sensory experience and it’s very alive. After gardening, Lev and I have these little conversations about what we did, and it’s so precious.

I think it shows him what it means to care, to tend, to nurture, and to know that the earth is doing the same for him. It’s a beautiful, mutual exchange.

Kids care for things so naturally. They make the connections so easily. I don’t have to teach it to him, I think the experience guides the way.

Photo: OzHarvest

Photo: OzHarvest

There are also some great recipes in the book. What are some of Lev’s favourites?

Hands down, Lev’s favourite recipe is the black banana pancakes. We make them together every single Sunday.

They are super easy and healthy, and even when he’s not in the mood to eat much, I can always count on the fact that he’ll eat the pancakes, which is a great thing to have up my sleeve!

Will there be a follow up to Lenny and the Ants?

Who knows! Stay tuned! If the inspiration strikes, you’ll hear about it.

Thanks for your time, Jessica!