Liga Jarovoja’s Food-Epiphany

A round, ripe, graphic tomato forms the “O” in the phrase “Love Food Hate Waste.” Liga Jarovoja stares up at the saying and looks the bins. Her food-epiphany struck. “I remember that symbol and it clicked with me straight away,” Jarovoja said. Despite the fact this moment took place years ago, Jarovoja was no stranger to food waste. She had worked in a five-star hotel’s restaurant and noticed the waste. 

“If you didn’t trim a carrot right, they would dump it and all your prep would be gone in the bin, which you worked on for three hours,” Jarovoja said. “I was like… ‘How do you even make money?’ And then ‘Where’s this food going?’’

Head Chef Lisa Jarovoja in her restaurant, Merrow, at the Pálás Cinema. Photo by Drew Herbert.

Even when she visited a hotel recently, Jarovoja noticed the mounds of food on customer’s plates from the buffet that ended up in the garbage. She feels sit-down style dining allows a consumer to think more about what they’re ordering and how much they want to eat. 

Jarovoja worked in the hotel for three years before deciding to travel around Europe. On her trip, she traveled to countries that handled food waste differently than Ireland. This perspective piqued her interest in food waste. 

The chef’s experience with repurposing food waste comes from her mother’s influence. Growing up in Latvia, Jarovoja’s mother taught her to separate her food waste for composting to put it “back into the soil.”

Today, Jarovoja works as the Head Chef at Merrow, a restaurant inside the Pálás Cinema in Galway. The chef took the job after working in catering to help her to find a better “work-life balance” that would allow her to “focus on the little things”

Jarovoja works both in the kitchen and on the management side of the restaurant to help to reduce waste and food waste. 

“For me, it was like make smaller portions cheaper and everybody’s happy,” Jarovoja said.  

Possibly because of Jarovoja’s efforts, Merrow does not have much waste. Their compost bin is emptied once every two weeks and is often only half-way full when collected. 

The restaurant does not have a lot of storage space. So Jarovoja explained they will often order one ingredient and use it in multiple dishes. This conservation can save them money and can prevent throwing away leftover ingredients.

Beyond food waste, Merrow is trying to only use recyclable materials. All of their napkins and paper-plates have been removed. Jarovoja thinks there should be a penalty for single-use plastic. When the chef orders ingredients, she has the suppliers leave just the products, no cardboard box. 

“ I don’t think we’re going to completely go away with it (plastic),” Jarovoja said. “But like [we are] trying to do a little bit better. We feel happier. Our customers know and they feel happier. And the owners are happier.” 

Jarovoja also expressed concern about how market-driven farming affects the environment. For example, trees are cut down in America to plant avocados. 

“Because of the demand, everybody’s going bananas and nothing is being eaten,” Jarovoja said. “That’s why it’s like so many chemicals and all that stuff is put in as well.”

Another side of preventing food waste is educating the consumer on ordering the right amount of food and showing them how to properly dispose of food waste at home. Jarovoja encourages people to “eat smarter” and to avoid over-ordering food in restaurants or buying too much food at the grocery store.

“Eat local, seasonal and smaller,” Jarovoja said. “It feels right to go to your [local] markets and I’d say it’s actually cheaper.”

This education is important to Jarovoja because of the effect parents have on their children’s diets. She feels when fast-food restaurants came to Ireland, parents thought they would save money buying meals there. Now, she thinks many adults are raised with these unhealthy habits.

In Merrow, there is no “kids menu” with the normal options of fish and chips and spaghetti Bolognese. Instead, parents can order for their children off the regular menu and ask for child-sized portions. Jarovoja received some push back from parents hoping for “kid-friendly” meals but hopes she is helping to instill healthy habits for her younger customers to carry with them. 

“You don’t want to call it educating customers, but that’s basically what we’re doing,” Jarovoja said. “It’s healthier. It is education and I hope they learn when they’re here.”

Jessica Kronzer