Silvia and Jana have been traveling around Europe on a grant from The University of St. Andrews to create The Travelling Foodcast. They describe their project as a podcast about their journey to volunteer at and visit organizations working “to reduce food waste, fight food poverty and bring people from all walks of life together through cooking!”
We were so honoured that they chose to spend three weeks with us: interviewing our guests, volunteering on the floor, helping us in the office and bringing their passion for food justice to Philbeach Gardens. They will be releasing an episode about their time at Refettorio Felix soon, so I’ll leave it to them to tell that story, but here’s a brief discussion about their journey and what comes next.
It was great fun to grab a moment to chat with them about all the things they’ve eaten, lessons they’ve learned and people they’ve met. No doubt after reading this interview, you’ll wish that you could grab a coffee with them as well. The good news is, you can hear Silvia and Jana describe in depth each and every place they’ve visited on the travelling foodcast. We cannot encourage followers of Refettorio Felix enough to listen (not paid advertising). Not only will you learn about other incredible projects like ours around Europe, but also hear of some fantastic social enterprises in London- check out The Luminary Bakery.
Natasha: Can you start by giving us a little background about yourselves?
Silvia: I’m Silvia, I was born and raised in Luxumbourg but I’m Italian. I went to Scotland for university and I studied management at St. Andrews. That’s where I met Jana.
Jana: I’m Jana. I am from Germany, from Munich; I grew up there. And then, I also went to Scotland for University where I studied psychology. I met Silvia at volleyball social.
Natasha: What is the travelling foodcast?
Jana: We’ve got this pitch down to the nail now. Over the past nine months we’ve been travelling to and volunteering with a range of projects, social enterprises, local charities who are all working in the world of food and who are all having a positive social and/or environmental impact through what they do; this has been through urban community gardens, to social bakeries in prisons, to food waste fighting NGOs that run cookery workshops in schools
Silvia: Our idea was to create a European network of people doing similar things, but in different countries that would not necessarily know about each other, and to inspire all of them. To do this we created a podcast episode for each of the projects, so that we could share all of this knowledge and experiences with a wider audience.
Natasha: Where did the idea come from?
Jana: We’ve always had a shared passion for food, and at University we would always cook together and do really elaborate meals with our friends. And actually, the first project we found out about was Food for Soul. We thought it’s so cool what they’re doing in Milan with the Refettorio Ambrosiano. Then, we were always sending each other links to cool initiatives that we would find. That evolved naturally into applying for this scholarship which has allowed for the travel.
Silvia: But then, it took us a few months to prepare and to shape the project.
Natasha: How does the actual experience compare to what you expected?
Jana: It’s similar and very different. Different in that some of the projects that we actually ended up visiting and working with weren’t who we expected to spend time with. It was so far in advance, that in some of the places we reached out to, the connection had dropped off. You can only do so much research online. The best type of research is really going and speaking to people and asking them: Do you have any other projects in your area that are doing similar stuff? That’s how we would get the mushroom effect, where we would find out about 5 more. The biggest difference between our expectation and reality was how many more people we wound up speaking to than we had planned.
Silvia: I think we underestimated the time; no one had done this before. There were no examples. We did things as we went along. Now we think maybe, interviewing, producing a podcast, organizing travel, accommodations… etc. there were so many things, but in a positive way, we just learned, and then you know what you want to get out of it. It depends on the people you talk to.
Jana: We definitely underestimated the amount of work it would be to make a podcast. It’s not bish bash bosh and you’re done.
Silvia: But, if you plan too much, then you never do anything.
Jana: If we listen to our first episode now, compared to the quality of the last one, it’s worlds apart. I haven’t listened to the first one yet, because I think I’ll cringe too much
Natasha: Will you have a summary project or synthesizing episode?
Jana: Yes, well we’re actually hoping to put a little cookbook together. Because a podcast requires a lot of commitment to get engaged, and a lot of the people we interviewed aren’t native English speakers; listening can be hard. So, we wanted to do something more engaging, with a substance, like food. We’re hoping to have a little booklet, with a photo and a diary blurb about our volunteer experience. The recipes are quite simple
Natasha: Is there a standout meal or recipe?
Silvia: I understand this question, because a lot of our friends ask us, which was your favourite meal? But I struggle because they’re honestly all so different.
Jana: Let’s list a few: the Sicilian lunch in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. Silvia could barely understand the Italian because it was so rural. The food you picked; you would eat right there literally 30 minutes later. Silvia, what are the classic Sicilian pastas again?
Silvia: The classic ones? Pasta alla norma or just a pasta with tomatoes, throw some sausages in there, pasta with chickpeas. That’s very traditional: every day, the same thing. Also, all the food we had at the Food for Soul projects and baking bread in Bulgaria with all the women coming from Syria, Afghanistan, refugee women.
Natasha: What kind of bread did they make?
Silvia: All these breads with cheese in them, with feta: brioche, so delicious and fresh out of the oven. Everyone had their cheeks pressed against the window.
Jana: Christmas cookies in Vienna where they do cross cultural cooking programmes.
Silvia: There’s an amazing restaurant in Vienna called Habibi and Hawara which is a refugee incubator /training restaurant.
Jana: They have falafel and apfel strudel. So it combines Austrian and north African/Syrian cuisine.
Natasha: Sounds delicious. Just to wrap up, how will this experience influence what you do next?
Silvia: I didn’t think I was going to end up so much in food, and now I think it will be hard to leave this world for ever. I think we feel like we know quite a lot about the industry, because again, we saw it first hand talking to people. Also, learning to manage more practical things like a budget, scheduling, presenting yourself; that can come in handy
Jana: I think it’s really ingrained in both of us wanting to do something significant or with a lot of meaning, something where there is an environmental or social impact. It’s opened my eyes about how that is possible in so many ways. It’s not just working in a charity, but there are so many social enterprises.
Natasha: What were the surprises?
Silvia: I think how everyone we met believes so deeply in their project, not so much about making money but definitely in being financially sustainable. If you have an idea, and you grow it, and you put a lot of passion and energy in it, it can actually become something. Whether it’s a farm or a new cool restaurant in Oslo. It doesn’t matter. It all just started as an idea. Good energies really feed off each other. And in these networks, they’re all supportive. In London, the social enterprises are all giving each other advice. For instance, The Luminary bakery helps women with social and economic disadvantage get back into the work place by giving them baking experience or baking training. But there are loads, like Redemption Roasters or The Dusty Knuckle. We had lunch at dusty knuckle; I highly recommend it
Natasha: I can second that. At the end of this journey, what sticks out in your mind?
Jana: One lady I idolize now, her name is Katha Schinkinger, and she’s the woman who started Habibi and Hawara She’s the restauranteur essentially. She went into it without a background in food. She has four children, she’s in her mid-30’s and has this hugely successful delicious amazing restaurant. Now she is also helping refugees open their own restaurants or food take-away across Vienna.
Silvia: I think Sandra from the breadhouse in Bulgaria is forever in our hearts. Because we spent three weeks there, and we booked our volunteering there two days in advance. She was the sweetest woman with us, sort of like an older sister, very calm and polite, but also opinionated. She was very down to earth; we left with such an emotional goodbye. If I go back in 5 or 10 years, I want to go back and see her and what she’s up to.