2017 Cook It Forward Grantee Spotlight: Celia Lam

Exploring Farms and Food Waste in Japan

In celebration of our 10-year anniversary last year, we here at CulinaryCorps HQ decided to create a new and meaningful way for the organization to grow its mission via the Cook It Forward initiative. Cook It Forward is a micro-grant program open to CulinaryCorps alumni providing $555 in seed funding to help launch an outreach project of their own. This is our small way of giving back to the over 100 chef-volunteers who have given so much over the past decade to make our organization a delicious success.

Celia Lam, chef and food waste evangelist, is our second grant recipient for 2017. Working with a variety of project partners, Celia launched a highly ambitious culinary voluntourism trip to Chiba, Japan. Leveraging her network of local farmers, food artisans and culinary experts, Celia led a group of 10 participants into fields, farms, breweries and beyond to give them a first-hand glimpse into Japan’s organic farming practices. In addition, this trip explored the growing issue of food waste in Japan and emphasized the importance of zero waste cooking via hands-on cooking classes. Please read on for all the amazing details!

Project Title: From Field to Cup to Plate: Exploring Food Waste and Sustainable Agriculture in Chiba, Japan

Alumni Grantee: Celia Lam

A cook, teacher and advocate for sustainable food, Celia is also the co-Founder of Salvage Supperclub, a food waste initiative that began in NYC in 2014 whose aim is to inspire people to think differently about the edible food in their lives. She studied holistic nutrition at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Vancouver, BC and currently consults on wellness and food waste projects around the world.

Location: Chiba, Japan

Community Partners:

    • Terada Honke Brewery
    • Hidamari Farm
    • Miyamotoyami Farm
    • Brownsfield Initiative
    • Slow Food Kujakuri (a local chapter in Chiba)

Mission: To raise awareness about food waste and inspire change in behavior by connecting people to the food culture and community of Chiba, Japan via an immersive two-day trip. The trip highlights include harvesting “ugly produce” from a local farm, a visit to an artisanal sake production facility, and cooking a zero waste family-style meal alongside participants. 

Project Description

In an effort to immerse participants in the ethos of zero waste cooking, Celia created a self-contained trip that explored various facets of the movement. The itinerary included:

  • Tour of the Terada Honke Sake Brewery
    • The group learned about the history and preservation of traditional sake production and its byproduct sakekasu (which they used to cook with later on in the trip) 
    • Afterwards, the participants enjoyed a private sake tasting and dinner by brewery chef, and Terada’s wife, Satomi

  • Visit to Local Farms and Miso Lab with Wild Herb Foraging Adventure
    • Hidamari Farm (Sosa City, Chiba, Japan)
      • Participants visited an organic vegetable farm with local chef and farmer, Yasuhiro Ota

  • Miyamotoyama Farm (Satoyama, Chiba, Japan)
    • Participants toured the rice and soy bean farm and visited the family’s small miso production lab
    • The group also went herb foraging in the Satoyama mountain region with farmer and Slow Food Kujakuri member, Koyulu Saitou
    • Everyone was treated to an impromptu communally-made lunch with the family

  • Mindfulness Stay at Brownsfield Initiative Community
    • Participants were treated to an overnight retreat at the Sagrada Kominka guesthouse, a traditional 200 year old Japanese home best known for promoting sustainable practices and homesteading culture led by macrobiotic chef, Deco Nakajima, and photographer Everett Brown. The next morning began with a mindfulness activity, followed by a macrobiotic breakfast made with local, organic foods from the farm. 

  • Zero Waste Cooking Workshop
    • To gather ingredients for the meal, there was a “salvaged treasure hunt” at Brownsfield Initiative for recovered food items from the local store and farm which were used as the meal’s primary ingredients.
    • Guests were also invited to contribute items such as unused spices and edible products past their “best before” dates.
    • A multi-course meal was prepared in tandem by Celia along and the trip participants


Project Metrics

10: total participants

30: pounds of food rescued

9: recipes created for the farm-to-table zero waste meals

      • Yuzu Vegetable Ramen
      • Rainbow Salad
      • Odds & Ends Pickles
      • Beautiful Beetroot Onigiri
      • Imperfect & Roots Greens Salad  
      • Millet Risotto
      • Roasted Diakon  
      • Ginger and Cirtrus Tea 
      • Gluten Free Brownies

13: different “food waste” products salvaged and incorporated into the finished dishes including mushroom stems, sake byproduct, past-dated foods, and ugly produce.

Food For Thought

On the success of the project…

“In Japan, the importance of organic farming, let alone food waste, is not well known. In my observations, urban centers (e.g., Tokyo which is 1.5 – 2 hours away) have very little awareness of the local food systems in the surrounding countryside. Like most major cities, access to food is easy, cheap and convenient. Because of this trip, a new understanding of food waste was uncovered and a deep respect was gained for the community members we met and learned from. We were all deeply inspired by their dedication to making good food and drink from traditional practices.”

On language barriers…

“As Japanese is not my native language, this was a big challenge facing the trip since I had relied on translators to assist with logistical planning…all of whom had to back out of the trip last minute! Without them, seemingly simple tasks like picking up groceries became an adventure. We ended up with some incorrect products – e.g., mirin instead of vinegar – however we just used our mistakes as part of our zero waste cooking workshop to teach students how to improvise. It was actually a good reminder for me of why I started this project in the first place. It underscored mindfulness in the moment, being grateful for what we have, and the fact that what you have can always be enough!”

On going with the flow…

“The co-cooking activity was originally designed to be very structured with preset recipes and curriculum. However due to unanticipated changes, we adapted and instead had an impromptu cooking session using what we had. It ended up working beautifully as the group created a vibrant, heart-felt meal which we all enjoyed outdoors.”

On reflections from the participants…

“At the end of the trip, a female participant who studied culinary arts told me she was used to cooking from “perfect” recipes and that she was uncomfortable at the beginning of the zero waste cooking exercise. But she quickly realized that with a bit of direction and some suggestions from the group, she was able to create a delicious meal without a recipe. Overall, the group of participants conveyed they didn’t realize the scope of food waste and also how organic farmers account for only 1-2% of Japan’s total agricultural output.”

On small moments of impact…

“A couple who participated on the trip recently connected with Koyulu, one of the farmers we worked with, and arranged to purchase veggies to support his farm and supply their own family of boys with healthy food.”

On next steps…

“I’m beginning to plan a similar local initiative around a food rescue event in Bangkok. I have a meeting with a woman who is part of a local food recovery organization in town. It’s all very exciting as it’s the first I’ve heard of anyone doing this sort of work here.”


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