Food creator Miica Fran is on a mission to save the planet through her “special healing power” of salvaging and savoring vegetables.
Fran runs an experimental zero-waste kitchen, Bio Labo House, out of aVin, a wine shop and bar specializing in bio wines from Rhone and Provence, on a cozy street in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward.
Despite the ubiquity of Japanese concepts like mottainai (“what a waste”), the Environment Ministry reports that the average amount of food thrown out per person, per day “could fill up an entire rice bowl,” even though Japan’s food self-sufficiency stands at a paltry 37 percent.
Learning about the waste produced in Japan is what motivated Fran to start Bio Labo House.
“I want to share my experience with the other chefs because it’s an experimental zero-waste restaurant,” she says. “It’s not perfect.”
Last year, Fran explored farms, foraged forests and cooked with chefs in six European countries to better understand food loss and how to reduce waste in her own kitchen. She also had the chance to visit Nolla, a zero-waste restaurant in Helsinki.
“The owner, Luca (Balac), showed me their kitchen,” she says. “There were no trash bins, and there was a small box for compost on each countertop. … I’m grateful to the Nolla team for proving things that seem impossible are possible. I think that there is a lot to learn for Japan.”
In January, vegetarian and vegan chef Akemi Kanai joined Fran’s zero-waste experiment. One of the first steps the two took was to make a special reusable container to avoid plastic waste. It’s difficult to shun plastic completely, especially when Japan is the second-largest per-capita generator of plastic waste in the world according to the U.N. Environment Programme, producing more than the entire European Union. When something does include plastic, Fran puts the waste in the designated container and sends it to Kano Atsushi, founder of Swell Plastic, who upcycles it into colorful trays, coasters and tableware.
Fran and Kanai also source their produce locally. Sometimes they visit local farms like Farm Koeru and Base Side Farm to help harvest fresh produce. These farms actively sell organic “B-grade produce” — crops of nonstandard shape and size.
“Every vegetable … (provides) an opportunity to review the value of what has been recognized as a loss, which was considered inferior until now,” say Koeru owners Yoshiko and Naoki Shirotsuki.
In an effort to reduce said “loss,” Fran and Kanai started composting in a flower bed beside the store. They put in eggshells, coffee grounds, peelings and leftover food, which, in time, turns into healthy soil. “(Nolla’s) owner told me (the restaurant) makes compost and distributes it to farmers,” she says. “I want to do what they do!”
But not everything is compostable: Onion skins, which don’t decompose easily, must be collected separately. Ultimately, they’re given to artist Emiko Hasegawa, who uses them to make natural dye.
“By having the onion skin… do one more job, we can stagger the timing of when they are considered garbage,” Hasegawa says.
Still, there are plenty of challenges to running a zero-waste kitchen, including, Kanai says, managing the surplus of perishable items: “I want to make the right amount, and to eat the right amount.”
One way to pare down on potential food waste is to share bulk ingredients, sparking Fran and Kanai’s plan to open a zero-waste grocery store this summer at aVin. Chefs and even customers can bring an eco-bag and container and buy organic ingredients directly from the stock bin.
When asked how people could make their own kitchens less wasteful, Kanai says that “rather than one person, two and three people can work together to raise environmental awareness.”
Fran agrees: “People in Japan are learning the sustainable and zero-waste lifestyle little by little.”
For more information about Bio Labo House, visit Miica Fran’s Instagram at bit.ly/biolabohouse.