Heschel Alumni Work Towards A Sustainable Food Revolution

Even today, many people are unaware that eating heavily processed foods and diets rich in dairy and meat have a detrimental effect both on our body and the environment. Industrial farming techniques also contribute to groundwater pollution, soil erosion, and breakdown of rural communities. Moreover, people throw away food without realizing the vast resources that are wasted in the process. These are only some reasons why environmental activists and health experts have been stressing the importance of eating sustainably. There are many factors that go into eating sustainably, including: adopting a Mediterranean diet, being less wasteful by not over-buying, and buying locally or home grown food to reduce the need of transporting food, and resultant “food miles.”.

Shai Rilov, an alumnus of the Heschel Fellowship program, created “Robin Food,” a social enterprise that strives to change the way Israeli’s perceive food. “Currently, a third of the food in the world goes to waste. Our mission is to reduce this number by taking fruits and vegetables that restaurants or markets are about to throw away and creating meals out of them, which we cater at outside events or serve at our monthly get-togethers”, says Shai. Recently, they catered for 300 people at the Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition in Rehovot. In addition to catering, Robin Food hosts workshops, lectures, and have been featured on cooking shows. However, he would not be where he is today, if it weren’t for the connections he made with the other Heschel Fellows in his cohort. He was able to meet people from many different industries, which helped him gain support for Robin Food. The fellowship taught him that he should be looking at sustainability from a holistic approach and he has applied this concept to running his enterprise. Through the models that he was taught during his fellowship, he learned what doesn’t work when addressing environmental concerns and has used this as a stepping stone to using alternative methods to promote the idea of sustainable food.

Dr. Itamar Grotto, another alumnus of the Heschel Fellowship program, as the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health holds the highest position that a physician can attain in Israel. He is the leading medical professional that participates in shaping Israel’s national health policy. It was in his previous position as Director of Public Health Services that he started to stress the importance of eating healthy and sustainable food. He brought awareness to the risks of obesity and how eating less processed food can lower these risks. He says, “Eating locally grown food is not only sustainable, but it lowers the amount of processed food that is being produced”. After the year-long Fellowship program, he found himself becoming more proactive about the environment in his field of work. He says, “During the Fellowship, I became exposed to different aspects of environmental dilemmas, policies, and decision making in Israel. I gained skills in understanding different ways that I could promote change in environmental policies”. He was able to educate other leaders in the Ministry about what he learned, which collectively made the health sector more active and aware about the current state of our environment.

Both alumni found that implementing change in their field takes patience and determination. When Itamar started promoting healthy food five years ago, he learned that you need to have knowledge and awareness to promote the correct policy steps. He admits that making the change back then was much more difficult, but it is easier now since the public is more aware of the impact of eating healthy. Itamar hopes that this awareness will persuade people to purchase less processed foods and more locally grown foods. When Shai was in the beginning stages of creating Robin Food, he discovered the value of working with innovative people. Shai says, “Innovative people understand my vision for Robin Food and they are not afraid of contributing their ideas”. Shai also found that being on a personal level with consumers and diners, makes people more likely to support his mission. Shai hopes to see a change in the way food is managed in the consumer market. In addition, he hopes to engage with members of the Knesset to help them to become more active in the field of sustainable food.

Shai realizes that he has a long road ahead of him and that if he wants to reach more people then he will need to gain a larger audience. He anticipates the challenges involved in creating a larger scale sustainable business model. Itamar also foresees a few challenges ahead. For example, he recognizes that it will be difficult to garner full support for his work in the political arena, while the private sector still holds so much power. Itamar’s vision is for Israel to be a healthier society. He says, “I want to put more resources into prevention, and into promotion of awareness of environmental issues. Additionally, I hope to be able to make recommendations of healthy food options for people who have specific risk factors or restrictions”. Looking to the future, Shai would like to see the Ministry of Agriculture get more involved in the field of sustainable food. He says, “There needs to be more awareness around the dangers of eating processed food, sugar, and meat, and food not grown sustainably”.