From apple sorbet to cauliflower kimchi, Root Radicals makes food that leads to a more circular economy.
by Portia Ladrido
In 2010, Monica Kisic Aguirre was introduced to the world of fermentation and sourdough bread. She had spent over a decade of her life as a scientist, but eventually pursued another interest: cooking.
She worked as a head chef in her hometown in Peru. When she got married and pregnant, she moved to Berlin. “My daughter was about one and a half years old when I started to think about what do I want to do with my life? What do I want to do, where do I want to go?” she said.
Monica shared that a constant thought on her mind was that there was so much food waste. “I’ve already gone into this food preservation with artisans, so I thought, why not find a way to address the issue of food waste,” she said.
The chef/scientist started to read more about circular economy and has since felt that the way we produce food should change. Through her organisation, Roots Radicals, she hopes to work towards bringing about the change and much more. “Circular economy is very rooted in natural systems and natural cycles and I, as a biologist, believe that all the answers are in nature. So I wondered what if I made food that is 100% circular?”
INKLINE talked to Aguirre to about the organisation and what she envisions the project to achieve.
I: How does Roots Radicals work?
Monica Aguirre: We work with different suppliers in the food chain, in Berlin and produce from farms before it goes to the supermarket. So, for example, if a lemon has green spots and people don’t want it or supermarkets don’t want them, then those normally go to waste. They’re edible, in perfect nutritional conditions, and of course, they shouldn’t be wasted so this is something we rescue.
We have partners as well. To have a circular economy, there should be collaborations or partnerships. We also have other partners in the food chain, like big supermarkets that have tons of waste because of bad delivery systems or milk that has not gone bad yet but consumers won’t buy it if it’s going to be bad in 2 days, so that goes to waste, and that’s on the first level. We rescue food and vegetables, we make ice cream, we make pickles, hot sauces, ketchup, mustards, radishes, and so on.
We also have a very strong upcycling philosophy in our process, which means, we reuse the byproducts from any food produce that we do to create new ones. If we make apple sorbet, the apple peels are fermented into vinegar, and then we have apple vinegar. We make a piccalilli relish with cauliflower and corn, cucumbers and corn, and with cauliflower leaves we produce kimchi. Similarly, with the onion scraps, we try to make onion salt, and so forth.
So every single produce has a sort of sibling, so the cycle is completely zero-waste in a way. It’s also about educating the consumer, the people because habits need to change. We produce workshops around how to tackle food waste at home, how to make oils with herbs when they go bad, fermentation, and other ways to cook and preserve.
Food is invisible in the cities, you cannot really see the process and you really can’t connect to it, and this is also why there’s a bit of a disconnect. We want to open a space that can show the process and enable people to reconnect to food and change and empower them to practice more sustainable lifestyles.
I: So you’re saying in people in Berlin are quite removed from the process of producing food?
M: Not only in Berlin, but in general. Nowadays, production kitchens are all located in the outskirts of the city, and small producers can’t afford to even rent in the center, everything is outside. Of course, big industries are all outside. So you don’t really see how anything is been done. You just get the can or the jar, and don’t think about the land, about the produce. We want to have a space where you can see produce and the production process.
I: When do you plan to have that?
M: Right now, we’re already producing and we are in markets in Berlin. We are in weekly markets, we’re talking to stores, and starting to sell. We are going into a big funding phase to get the real euros so that we can find a location and finally open up. We are hoping at the end of the year we’ll have the hub.
I: What was the first step in launching the products?
M: I did a small Christmas market in my house, and I invited my friends but I asked my friends to bring someone I didn’t know. I also did events such as music festivals, and corporate events with ice cream. We get a lot of fruits during the summer usually and then we make to produce amazing ice cream sorbet.
We had a big event last year, in a market where we launched the brand. We had tons of produce and posters to educate the audience and really introduce Roots Radicals to the public in Berlin, and that went super well.
I: How do you plan what kind of products you are going to offer? Does it only depend on what food waste is available?
M: Yes, the big challenge is the unknown factor. It’s very unpredictable. You can’t control if there’s always going to be tomatoes or cauliflower. Regarding fruit, it’s also very seasonal. But you normally always have bananas or apples. It’s based a lot on the seasons even though many things can be imported.
It also depends on the weather, and I am also a very creative person so I really love making new things and to experiment. Sometimes what I do is just look at the ingredients that I have and see what can be made out of it.
I: What are other challenges did you face or are currently facing?
M: The biggest challenge is that we don’t do linear or behave in a linear way. We don’t just choose one produce and produce thousands of the same one. That’s already challenging because people or companies, they want to know if they can buy it for one year for an x amount. They’re not used to the volatility. Changing the habit in that regard is challenging in terms of business.
At the moment, we do it in a very artisan way. We’re upcycling and we make a high-quality preserve, but we also want to make it accessible price-wise.
Food is so cheap and people are used to that. And so it takes educating also to let people know that you can’t spend so little money because it’s not being fair for the farmers. These are also companies that make it cheap for the cost of the planet, right? And they’re really not paying for their carbon footprints. These relations need to change because they shouldn’t sell such cheap produce in this regard.
I: What is your end goal?
M: To reconnect people with food, back to nature in a way. I really think that food has this power. It’s something that we eat every day. It’s something that gives us the energy for our body to move. It gives us all the nutrition and it’s been too much time that we’ve undervalued food and its power. Culturally speaking, it unites us.
We must change the way things are right now because in the end, it’s up to all of us, it’s not something one can do alone.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.