What inspired you to write Lenny and the Ants?
Years ago, while I was traveling in India, I heard a great little parable that involved ants and a very disagreeable man, and it stuck with me. The parable really highlighted the resourceful nature of these little guys, and it started me thinking on how I could learn a thing or two from the insect and animal kingdom when it comes to waste. Animals are ingenious like that. It’s actually very hard to think of a wasteful animal. So the idea for Lenny started brewing back then. When I gave birth to my son, Lev, two years ago, I felt inspired to play with that idea again and write it for him. It’s important to me that he grows up understanding how precious food is, how it’s about sharing and love, and how the way we understand and relate to food affects the planet. There is a way to live in harmony with the things we have, and this book was my way to get him thinking about that in the most simple and joyous way, in a way that completely disarmed the food-waste problem and gave only a fun way forward.
Why is the key message of this book so important for children in particular?
Well, children and adults alike waste food, so I think the book has a little message for everyone! Not wasting food comes from an engaged understanding of where food comes from, what it took to get it here, how it works, what it all means. These are all real conversations to be had with kids as early as we feel they can engage in it, which seems to always be earlier than I think from my experience so far. They are so capable of ‘getting’ stuff when it’s presented in the appropriate way. Very soon they will be the teenagers, and the adults, that look after this planet and hand it over to their children, so starting the conversation in a fun, interactive way is certainly important.
What reactions have you had from kids when they have read the book?
I was thrilled to bits when I read the story to my little Lev and he asked for it again and again in one sitting. I couldn’t get a bigger compliment than that. He was giggling at the drawings and squealing through other funny bits and that is such a joy for me as the writer. When we come across bruised fruit, for example, he will mention Lenny, and I get to see first-hand how the book has affected him. Humour and delight are wonderful ways to become engaged in a story. I’m constantly amazed by the huge role books and stories play in helping him understand the way the world works. I’ve had other wonderful messages from other children who loved it. What more could I ask for?
What simple steps can we be making at home to help cut down on food waste?
Three easy things I can think of: the first is carefully checking what is in your fridge before you go shopping. This is one way to avoid buying excess stuff that will end up in the bin. Getting creative with leftovers is another way to avoid waste – for example, make hash browns for breakfast with leftover roast potatoes. Another great thing to do is to start a compost bin at home. Some compost bins only require a very small amount of space, so you can make it happen in an apartment too. This will reduce all the harmful methane gas that gets created when food scraps get trapped in landfill, and makes golden elixir for your garden or a neighbour’s garden.
The book features fun recipes to re-purpose food waste, what’s your favourite recipe to do at home?
The black banana pancakes in the book are Lev’s absolute favourite. And I’m certainly into it because it’s the quickest, easiest thing I’ve ever made! And it’s fun because we also get to rescue a black banana from the bunch that may otherwise go in the rubbish. Lev makes them with me and we make them every single Sunday. It’s become a bit of a ritual. They are quite delicious and he can’t get them in his mouth fast enough. I felt it was important to include the recipes in the book because it’s a practical way that kids can engage in Lenny’s story and, in turn, think about food and eating in a different way.
The book supports food rescue charity OzHarvest, tell us more about the amazing work that they do.
OzHarvest has been collecting leftover food from all over the country for over 14 years. It’s a very simple concept: wherever there is surplus food – in supermarkets, cafes or restaurants – they are onto it. They can then distribute it to vulnerable Australians through different charitable organisations. They transform what would otherwise be landfill into meals, and they transform lives by giving Australians the care, nutrition and dignity they deserve. This year they delivered their 100 millionth meal. That’s pretty amazing.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your beautiful new book?
Every single Lenny and the Ants book that is purchased delivers 80 meals to people who need it. So your investment goes a long way. I think that’s very special.
This amazing book is available to buy from: https://events.ozharvest.org/shop/viewitem/lenny—the-ants