The Zero Food Waste practice in Jing Si Abode

As the headquarters of Tzu Chi Foundation, Jing Si Abode is the spiritual home to every Tzu Chi volunteer and member around the world. As a big family, having dried vegetables reserves is essential to Jing Si Abode.  At the kitchen area, recycled rice sacks and plastic bags are used to store dried vegetables like dried cabbage and dried cauliflowers etc. 

During the period of February and March in 2020, many agricultural products could not be sold due to the coronavirus pandemic. In view of that, Jing Si Abode bought truckloads of cauliflower, cabbage, yam bean, etc. to be processed and dehydrated. Despite having ample supply of these dried vegetables in store, Master Cheng Yen’s instruction was to keep doing the same. This was done to prepare for rainy days and to provide for others who need them in times of difficulty. Also, it is to prevent the hard work of the farmers from going to waste.   

These dried vegetables are made by drying them with slow fire on the stove. The stove which is used to dry the vegetables had been improved to not emit black smoke while burning. The fuels are unwanted pallets collected from various ports. These pallets are transported to Jing Si Abode by Tzu Chi volunteers and subsequently chopped into small equal pieces to fit into the stove.

In the earlier days, dharma masters in Jing Si Abode were often not guaranteed of their next meal, that is why, even a radish was so precious that its skin and roots were also made into delicious dishes in order to not waste any part of the vegetable. Apart from buying soybean products, the rest of the dishes were cooked from whatever that was available, hence, dried vegetables became a daily dish during those days. Dharma Master De Ru shared that it was due to scarcity that the good habits of diligence and appreciation were developed. She said, “This is the motto of Jing Si dharma lineage, and is also the duty of a spiritual practitioner.”

Master De An who is in charge of receiving visitors and guests emphasized that in the past, there were no mushrooms nor any other ingredients for cooking vegetarian dishes. There was only soysauce. Despite so, the marinated dried vegetables were liked by all. Master De An further said, “To save a little here and there in order to cut cost is what a monastic person should do.”  

Cherishing and making good use of things and extending their lifespan are the main reasons Jing Si Abode is able to achieve zero food waste. 

To most people, the residue from beans, vegetables and fruit skin are just food waste in the kitchen. However, in Jing Si Abode, these are precious materials. These useful wastes are turned into organic fertilizer for the vegetables while fruit skins are used to produce enzymes and soap. The enzymes can be used to clean the floor, drains, toilet bowls and even remove foot odour or be used for bathing. The all-natural organic soap can be used to clean our body from head to toe. Soy fibre can be used to make vegetarian floss (mock meat floss) to add to the dishes in each meal. Also, the fallen branches and leaves can be grounded and made into fertilizers, returning them back to mother nature.

“There are many details to the process, but we have been living mindfully with no moment gone wasted.” This is the realization of Dharma Master De Wu, who is in-charge of making organic fertilizer and enzymes. Master De Wu said, “The organic fertilizer is part of the nutrients for the growing of vegetables, and these vegetables are then consumed by people for the purpose of attaining enlightenment.” This is how life nurtures wisdom, where both insentient beings and sentient beings complement each other. 

(Excerpt from Tzu Chi Monthly Issue 645)