“This is the antithesis of excess culture where we pop champagne only to pour it on the floor and burn money because we have so much,” says Banesa Lolauoa Tseki, while sitting next to her business partner Anesu Mbizvo.
Last year Tseki and Mbizvo opened The Nest Space in Greenside, Johannesburg, the first yoga studio in South Africa owned by black women. Today they sit in the studio’s recent appendage: a zero-waste vegan grocery and café.
Situated across the hall from the yoga studio, the naturally lit retail space is about the size of a double garage. Instead of shelves packed to the ceiling with merchandise, items on sale sit on tables in large glass jars among potted plants and a variety of crystals.
This space leads out to an enclosed balcony with ample patio furniture that allows patrons to comfortably observe the traffic of Greenside’s Gleneagles Road.
After last year’s interview about the yoga studio, the Mail & Guardian caught up with Tseki and Mbizvo to unpack the lifestyle they are selling.
“Okay, so there’s actually no such thing as zero waste,” sighs Tseki. The act of leaving a footprint on the earth is inevitable so zero-waste refers to a lifestyle in which people reduce the amount of nonbiodegradable matter they discard. The French zero-waste advocate Bea Johnson explains it as: refusing what you do not need, reducing what you do need, reusing nonperishables and recycling what is left over.
In an effort to promote this, all items in the store are aligned with the zero-waste ethos. This means they either have no packaging or come in reusable glass containers or biodegradable beeswax paper that won’t harm the Earth. The unpackaged items, such as grains, nuts, raisins, and seeds, are sold by weight. To encourage customers to adopt this lifestyle, they are asked to bring their own containers in which to store the produce they purchase. The alternative is purchasing reusable containers from The Nest.
Most of the grocery’s products are supplied by Unwrapped Co, an online store that supplies its clients (private and retail) with organic pantry staples and eco-friendly household products that align with the zero-waste ethos. It supplies The Nest with a variety of items, ranging from your everyday grains such as rice to organic dishwashing soap.
All products in the store align with a zero-waste ethos. (Paul Botes/ M&G)
With regards to its pricing, The Nest aims to be as affordable as possible. “We’re vegan and don’t use animal products so it’s quite easy because fruits and vegetables are not expensive,” says Mbizvo. Tseki recalls the duo’s first interview with the M&G, in which they said that the lifestyle they promote at The Nest is first marketed towards black people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic standings, in an effort to remind us that holistic self-care is not a Western concept. “We need people to wake up from this idea of associating things that are good for us with whiteness or other than us,” she says.
Tseki and Mbizvo then engage in a back and forth, discussing the ways in which the zero-waste and vegan lifestyle is not new to the African way of existing. They talk about using ice-cream tubs as skaftins, an empty orange sack as a loofah substitute, passing down clothes and making rugs out of old clothes or plastic bags.
When deciding which items to include in the grocery’s catalogue, the partners drew from their personal experiences as black women who are on plant-based diets and promote the zero-waste movement. As a result, their merchandise includes basics such rice and pasta; toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner that are sold in soap bars instead of plastic bottles; household cleaning products; and zero-waste essentials including stainless steel straws, cotton shopping bags and face cloths. The Nest also offers an organic fruit and vegetable box service that allows clients to order and pick up a weekly supply of fresh produce when they shop for their nonperishables.
The products they sell include toothbrushes (above) and unbottled shampoo (below). (Paul Botes/ M&G)
In addition to adding a grocery to its stable, The Nest’s expansion includes a café where homely vegan food is served in an airy setting with free wi-fi. The café serves vegan coffee, tea, juices, smoothies, wraps and sushi platters. Seeing that the ingredients are organic and locally sourced, the café’s menu is based on which produce is in season and it changes weekly.
With the business expanding, Banesa Lolauoa Tseki and Anesu Mbizvo have had to grow the team to keep afloat while empowering women. (Paul Botes/ M&G)
As well as promoting a type of zero-waste veganism that is sustainable and affordable to those who are already interested in it, The Nest’s grocery and café aims to be a safe space in which cynics who think the food is not palatable, filling and wholesome can be persuaded otherwise. With this in mind, Tseki’s and Mbizvo’s weekends are spent hosting a buffet on Saturdays and a soul food lunch on Sundays. The ingredients for the events are supplied by Johannesburg-based food rescue and redistribution nonprofit Nosh.
Speaking to the M&G, Hanneke van Linge, the founder of Nosh, says the nonprofit organisation collects food waste from various Checkers, Pick n Pay and Spar stores. The nonprofit was established after Van Linge realised how much food retailers throw away when she participated in a soup-kitchen run. “I’ve built relationships with stores to collect waste and I distribute that to a whole network of shelters, feeding schemes and churches, people who are doing the feeding every day.”
Food waste is the produce that retailers have to get rid off because of “damaged packaging and sell by dates that have passed,” says Van Linge. This food is often discarded in dumps and landfills because the legal liability for what happens to food waste from supermarkets lies with the retailers. “A lot of the stores choose to throw it away to avoid being sued. That’s why we remove all branding when we receive the produce,” says Van Linge.
Because the food that Van Linge handles is perishable, she has to redistribute it on the same day she receives it from retailers to avoid adding to the tons that are already being thrown away. When there is excess, Nosh offers the likes of Tseki and Mbizvo produce at a fee that goes towards funding the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit, which otherwise has very little funding.
“Our menus and what we have available in store are dictated by what the Earth has to give us,” says Tseki towards the end of our conversation, in a bid to link the grocery and café to the yoga studio across the hall. “In everything, all we’re trying to do is encourage people to be mindful, to look at what they have and create from there. We have everything we need and we’ve always had it.”