Mapping The Locavore's impact and Chef Thomas Zacharias' vision for a greener future

As The Locavore completes 2 years, take a look at how this dynamic organisation is on its way to build a sustainable and nurturing community and ecosystem

Update: 2024-04-25 05:18 GMT

As the temperatures soar high day after day, we begin to realise the irreversible damage our planet faces at the mercy of Climate Change. Throughout the year we celebrate a number of occasions like World Earth Day (celebrated on 22nd April) or World Environment Day (celebrated on 5th June) to raise awareness regarding topics like sustainability and slow living, but there are few who are actually imbibing this change and working towards a better world.

Similarly the food world is no stranger to concepts like ethical sourcing and organic farming. However with the once rarely found avocados making their appearances on street side kiosks the fact still remains that awareness alone is not enough to drive change. One also needs to be committed to the cause. As citizens around the globe frenzy themselves in an urgency to embrace sustainable practices, I had the privilege of sitting down with chef Thomas Zacharias, the visionary behind The Locavore. At its core, The Locavore stands as a beacon of conscious eating and ethical food practices, igniting a profound understanding of our food systems' interconnectedness. Through purposeful storytelling and impactful initiatives—such as the Millet Revival Project, in collaboration with Rainmatter Foundation, seeking to revitalise India's relationship with millets—The Locavore inspires individuals to embrace a deeper connection with their food and the planet. This ambitious endeavour, leveraging research, community engagement, and storytelling throws light on the grain's health and ecological benefits.

As we delve into Chef Thomas Zacharias's insights, we explore his unwavering commitment to driving positive change through food.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

1. How does The Locavore navigate and simplify the process of making responsible food choices for consumers?
The Locavore aims to simplify responsible food choices by championing local food and sustainability. And we achieve this through various avenues such as storytelling, events, social impact projects and travel experiences. Specifically addressing the complexity of food systems, we've realised the importance of supporting grassroot-level organisations, experts and individuals working towards positive change. These changemakers often require assistance in areas like market access, storytelling and resource connection. As a platform, we step in to provide this support and foster communities of like-minded groups. And it is through compelling storytelling, we bring their stories to wider audiences and connect them directly with consumers. In essence, we're building an ecosystem where support and collaboration nourish each other, facilitating responsible food choices for all.

2. Can you discuss some of the challenges you've faced in highlighting local producers and farmers and telling their stories authentically and how The Locavore addresses these challenges?
I think the challenge is highlighting local producers and farmers authentically, essentially due to limited bandwidth and the vast array of incredible stories. As a small and growing platform, The Locavore is often challenged by the obstacle of reaching enough producers, and we are doing so but at a slow pace. Despite this, we're committed to learning and expanding our reach to bring more voices to the forefront. Recognising the need for support, we aim to address these challenges by maximising our resources and focusing on impactful initiatives.

3. Could you share some memorable experiences or impactful projects that The Locavore has undertaken in promoting ethical food practices and sustainability?
The Locavore has taken up on quite a number of impactful projects to promote ethical food practices and sustainability. For instance, we host potlucks in various cities across India, fostering community engagement and raising awareness about local cuisine and sustainability. Recently, we organised simultaneous potlucks in seven cities, bringing together around 150 people who shared food, stories and a passion for slow eating. Additionally, we've formed a community of producer partners, such as Dongaon Local, a micro-enterprise in Maharashtra producing ghee and other goods. By featuring their story on our platform, which acted as an efficient catalyst in getting them out in the public eye. They eventually quickly sold out and gained confidence to expand production, benefiting local farmers. We facilitated connections like these, such as linking Dongaon Local with Tillage, a platform showcasing products from different farms nationwide. These efforts have made a significant impact, fostering connections and empowering producers to thrive sustainably.

4. How does The Locavore foster partnerships with local producers and farmers, and what criteria do you use to select them?
At The Locavore our idea and criteria to foster partnerships with local producers and farmers is through a producer partnership program, which we started about two years ago. Key criteria for selection include a dedication to working with local and native indigenous food; ensuring the production of high-quality goods; and striving to improve systems for producing nutritious, chemical-free and additive-free food that aligns with local values. These criteria ensure that partnerships support sustainable practices and offer consumers access to ethically produced, wholesome products.

5. Can you share some examples of collaborations or initiatives undertaken by The Locavore?
Through our community-building efforts, we provide support to local producers and farmers by creating WhatsApp groups, distributing newsletters and hosting monthly workshops covering topics like branding, sustainable packaging and kickstart exports. This fosters a sense of community among small organisations, enabling them to share knowledge and support each other without competition. As our community grows, we aim to expand our impact by fostering collaborations with larger organisations. For instance, we are partnering with a major millet brand to help them source millets directly from farmers in a fair and equitable manner, with plans to create a playbook for other organisations. Additionally, we collaborate with corporate CSR foundations like Rainmatter Foundation to amplify our impact and reach a wider audience. I think the potential to tackle such serious topics are limitless and with time we will get there as well, as our community grows.

6. With the rising interest in sustainable eating practices, what advice would you give to individuals looking to adopt a more conscious approach to their food consumption?
In light of the growing interest in sustainable eating practices, my advice to individuals aiming for a more conscious approach to food consumption is threefold. Firstly, cultivating awareness and curiosity about food choices is crucial in today's fast-paced, convenience-driven culture. Taking the time to care about oneself, the community and the environment builds the basis for meaningful change. Secondly, it's essential to recognize that sustainability isn't a one-size-fits-all concept but rather a spectrum. Small steps towards sustainability in daily life can have a significant impact and it's okay to start small. Lastly, individuals should remember their sphere of influence extends beyond social media, you actually have more influential power than you think, especially in your own circles of influence. Encouraging sustainability within one's family and social circles can ripple outwards, creating a broader impact on food consumption practices.

7. You mentioned at some point that the concept of ‘sustainability’ is seen as an alien and elite concept, especially to the middle class or lower middle class man, who eventually make up the majority of the consumer base. How does The Locavore try to make sustainability a more approachable concept to these individuals?
Recognizing there is a misconception that sustainability is solely about organic food, we try to overcome this through the means of nuanced storytelling; to convey its broader implications, such as fair farmer compensation, crop diversity, soil health, water usage and packaging considerations. Rather than preach, we engage audiences through storytelling, social media and events, making sustainability relatable, emotional and enjoyable. By offering various avenues for involvement, including events, volunteer opportunities and projects like the Local Food Project, we empower individuals to take tangible actions in their communities. Through these efforts, we aim to foster a more inclusive and informed approach to sustainability, enabling more people to contribute positively to food systems. After all, this idea of change starts from you and that's where the progress happens.

8. Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for The Locavore in continuing to inspire and drive positive change through food in India?
The vision for The Locavore is not a five year or a 10 year vision, it's a 50 year or 100 year vision. I want this to last well beyond my lifetime and I don't want this to be about me. Because I really believe in the idea, and the fact that if all of the pieces come together, the impact will show itself. So if my vision is a 50 year or 100 year vision, then these first few years are about laying the foundation, getting people to understand what we're trying to do, getting those early adopters, learning from doing and then iterating and evolving. So that's the stage which we are at. It's just a matter of retaining the conviction and keeping at it. And I have a lot of faith in what this can achieve.


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