“Food is everything. It is nourishment. It is love. It is political. And our industrial system is wreaking havoc on our planet. So food is a good place to start when trying to live more sustainably. Food offers the opportunity to make more conscious choices three times a day (plus snacks!)”, says cookbook author, speaker and Zerowaste Chef, Anne-Marie Bonneau. To understand how simple or difficult low (to zero) waste cooking is, what myths around the lifestyle can derail us from its practice and how we can inspire ourselves to be more playful yet mindful with food, we, at IKKIVI Zine spoke with her this month and learnt some invaluable features about it. We hope these can support and further your own relationship with food and the environment, and bring newness to your everyday experiences with it.
1. What made you start zerowastechef? How has your journey with it been over the years?
Reading about plastic pollution in the oceans and its devastating effects on the oceans’ inhabitants started me on this journey. I decided on the spot that I would break up with plastic (doing so took several months). I then read about food waste—in the US, nearly 40 percent of the food we produce goes uneaten. That is an astonishing and absurd number. A couple of years into this lifestyle, I realized that I hadn’t had a cold or flu since I had changed my lifestyle. That came as a huge surprise. Cutting the plastic cleaned up my diet. Living more intentionally has also brought me so much joy. I never want to go back to the old days!
2. Could you tell us about your favorite part of the cooking process? (And your least favorite too!)
Cleaning is probably my least favorite task, although I love the results—a clean, organized kitchen. My favorite part of cooking is experimenting. Inspired to try something new with ingredients I have on hand has led to dishes and discoveries that I would not otherwise have made had I not imposed these constraints—to waste nothing—on myself.
3. We all learn differently – some of us respond more to books, some of us take to visuals and videos. How did you learn and develop this art of zero waste cooking?
I learned to ferment food and bake sourdough through books (I love books). Once I learned the basics, I started to experiment, which is not only fun but also reduces food waste. Fermentation plays a big role in preserving food in my kitchen—which reduces food waste. It also adds incredible flavors to food.
4. Through the course of the pandemic these last two years, a lot of us took to the kitchen and cooked more, cultivating a more intimate relationship with food. But many of us have also gone the other way – where in the thick of the stresses, we have lost the degree of connection we had with it. Food in one sense, just became about eating for the need and sake of eating. How can we go back to it, this time more mindfully than before?
I think getting back to cooking for nourishment and pleasure requires a shift in mindset, like any lifestyle change. I think you take it one day—or one meal—at a time and don’t stress about the big picture. And keep in mind all the work and resources that went into producing our food. Respect and gratitude for food will bring more joy to cooking.
5. Often we get discouraged and disinterested in starting something new or in staying committed to it, if it feels too difficult or time consuming. How can we make learning and practicing zero or low waste cooking fun and engaging for ourselves in the midst of hectic days and schedules?
Cooking with what you have on hand saves time and money. You won’t have to run out to the grocery store for that one missing ingredient. Make do and experiment with what you have on hand. When you do cook, make it worth your while and cook a double batch of whatever—if you will eat it all! Freeze some of that food to enjoy later. Cook once, eat twice (or three times).
6. What are some challenges people can expect to experience when they start practicing low or zero waste cooking and living?
Don’t let the “zero” in “zero waste” scare you or induce paralysis. Zero waste is merely a goal. Even if you don’t bring any plastic into your own home, plastic and other waste hide in the supply chain unseen behind almost everything we buy. So, don’t expect to be perfect—it’s not possible. And don’t expect to overhaul your lifestyle overnight. Just try to make a couple of changes, get them down and then try some more.
7. Sometimes we may not immediately be able to adopt a zero waste lifestyle. But we can try to produce as minimal waste as possible. Could you share with us some mindful and eco-conscious methods of disposing of the waste that is created in our homes?
A couple of strategies will have a big impact. Reducing food waste is one of the most impactful actions you can take. Food waste accounts for 8 to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. To put that into perspective, aviation accounts for about 2.5 percent of global emissions. So eat all the food you buy. There is no downside to doing that.
Composting is also crucial. Food waste—when it does happen—and food scraps should never go to a landfill. In a landfill, food becomes compacted and cut off of oxygen. The anaerobic bacteria that break it down emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term. If you have access to a yard, start a pile in the corner of it. You don’t even need to build a bin if you don’t want to. You can also pit compost—bury the food scraps in the ground. If you can’t compost in a yard, look for community gardens or farms that offer dropoff of your scraps. You can also compost indoors with worms. I once saw a worm bin that serves as an ottoman in someone’s living room! Of course, you can keep a worm but out of sight, in a cupboard or closet.
If you no longer want an item—clothes, furniture, kitchenware, for example—someone else likely does. Try to find a home for your unwanted items. Recycling is a last resort—prevention is key—and plastic has an abysmally low recycling rate (about 9 percent in the US). But put any recyclables in the bin. Some items do have a high recycling rate, such as aluminum cans.
8. What is one myth about zero waste cooking and living that you think needs to be debunked? And how can we do so?
People think zero-waste living costs a lot of money. I save money. I tell people the lifestyle is a package deal. Yes, local organic produce often costs more than non-organic industrially produced food, for example, but I eat all of the food I buy, which saves a small fortune. The average family of four in the US spends $1800 a year on food that goes uneaten. I eat lower on the food chain—lots of fruit and vegetables, beans and lentils and whole grains. I don’t buy things I don’t need. I recently moved and packing is not my favorite thing. If you’re tempted to buy something that you may not need, ask yourself if you want to pack it up one day when you move! That will stop many impulse buys. When I do buy something I need, I try to find it second-hand. I’m also fairly handy at repairing things—and at finding someone to pay to repair things. I had my sewing machine repaired this summer. The repairman tried to talk me into buying a new one (he also sells machines). Mine is much nicer than the new ones and using it until it can no longer be repaired is much more sustainable.
9. What are some of the difficulties you still experience when practicing a conscious lifestyle?
I have access to year-round farmers’ markets and very good bulk stores and I am able to compost. So I don’t find the lifestyle difficult here. Also, I was raised in a very religious household and trained to live consciously. So I would say the most difficult part of this lifestyle is other people’s expectations—which is really true of life in general. People want to give me things I don’t want (my family now knows not to). I really don’t want more stuff. So that can lead to some awkward situations.
10. What are the projects or learnings you are currently dedicated to? How is the rest of the year looking for you?
I’m attempting to rewild my yard. I recently moved back to my house after having lived in an intentional community for 15 years. I’d like to tear up at least some of the heat-retaining concrete in the backyard and replace it with native plants to attract pollinators. I’ve been saving logs from felled trees and branches and plan to build some raised hugelkultur beds outside for growing more vegetables. I’ll also plant a few more fruit trees.