Today on the occasion of world Environment day, we are happy to present a post by one of the popular bloggers- Anne Marie Bonneau, The Zero-Waste Chef, who has been living (mostly) plastic-free since 2011 and follows three rules in her kitchen: 1. No packaging. 2. Nothing processed. 3. No waste. Here are her tips on running a sustainable kitchen:
- Cut the processed food and cook your dinner
When I went (nearly) plastic-free in 2011, I quickly realized that I had stopped eating processed food. By cutting the plastic, I began to cook everything from scratch and as a result, inadvertently cleaned up my diet. My older daughter lost her extra pounds (I am naturally scrawny, so I’m not sure if I lost weight or not) and, although I haven’t done the math, I’m pretty sure I spend less on food than I used to, even though I buy quite expensive ingredients.
- Eat lower on the food chain
Meat and dairy consume a lot of resources to produce. If you want to lower your footprint (or foodprint), eat a plant-based diet. We do eat some meat but not a lot. I cook many vegetarian and some vegan dishes, such as dal, channamasala, curries, refried beans, falalfel, egg-plant parmigiana, quiche and so on. You can easily buy most of the ingredients for dishes like these without packaging waste. When I do buy meat, I always hand the butchers my containers to fill. They often thank me for doing this now (it wasn’t always that way)!
- Learn to ferment food
Since I cleaned up my diet in 2011 and started eating more fermented food (I eat at least one fermented food every day), I simply do not get sick. In nearly four years, I have had one short-lived cold. Filled with gut-friendly probiotics, fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, yogurt, kefir, etc.) boost your immunity. They aid in digestion. They make nutrients more bioavailable for your body. Their production consumes little or no energy and fermentation preserves food for months if not years. By fermenting foods myself, I save a ton of money. Plus, they taste simply delicious!
- Shop at the farmer’s market
You reap many benefits from shopping at your local farmer’s market. The food tastes better and you support your community. The food arrives in its own biodegradable, natural packaging. Because your farmer has recently picked the food, it retains more nutritional value than the produce that travels 1000 miles on a truck (after being picked unripe and gassed), sits in a warehouse and then ships to your supermarket. Farmer’s market produce can cost more money than food from a discount grocery store, however, when you buy produce in season (that’s all you’ll find at the farmer’s market), it does cost less than out-of-season produce.
- Assemble a zero-waste shopping kit
Before I go food shopping, I figure out what I need and accordingly organize my:
- Glass jars for bulk items like flour, seeds, nuts, spices, tea, honey, coconut oil and so on
- Metal or glass containersfor meat and fish
- Homemade cloth produce bagsfor produce and bulk foods like pasta or cat food
- Cloth shopping bags for carrying everything to and from the store
Different stores deal with containers in different ways. Some set scales out in the bulk section for you to weigh the empty containers and mark the tares on them. You don’t want to pay for the weight of a heavy glass jar when you buy bulk tea at $39 a pound (I know). At other stores, customer service will weigh the jars for you. At yet other stores, your request may completely baffle the staff.
- Hit the bulk aisles
I live close to three stores with decent bulk sections, which makes zero-waste shopping easy. I’ve heard from a few people in the UK that bulk bins aren’t very common there. If you can’t buy from bulk bins, and need lots of, say, flour, buying large amounts of it reduces your packaging to product ratio. Maybe you can share with a neighbor who digs the zero-waste idea.
- Ditch the disposables
My mom wonders how I run a kitchen without paper towels or plastic wrap. Having had two kids, I have enough too-small cotton t-shirts to make rags that will last me the rest of my life. As for plastic wrap, plates on bowls work. I also have a few beeswax coated cloths that cling to dishes. I sewed napkins on my serger about six or seven years ago and we still use them. I take a mug with me every time I go work at my favorite café.
- Recycle as a last resort
When plastics are recycled, they are actually downcycled—meaning even when reincarnated as toothbrushes, shopping bags or more plastic bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill eventually, unlike glass or metal, which can be recycled over and over without any degradation in quality. Better to cut off the trash at its source and refuse all this plastic junk
- Cut juice, soda, bottled water and any other beverage packaged in a plastic container or Tetra Pak
Juice contains as much sugar as soda. You may as well drink a Coke. Bottled water…don’t get me started. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching “The Story of Bottled Water,” produced by The Story of Stuff . Long ago, I bought juice and I’m ashamed to admit bottled water but today I buy only loose-leaf bulk tea in my own jars and milk in returnable glass bottles. That doesn’t mean we don’t consume a variety of beverages (including filtered tap water). I make kombucha every week and ginger beer and beet kvass regularly.
- Compost differs from waste
For me, zero waste means zero trash and zero recycling (because you buy so little in packaging). I exempt compost from the category of waste. That doesn’t mean I buy more food than I can eat or throw edible food on the compost heap. In fact, even my vegetable scraps don’t make it to the heap until after I’ve made broth out of them. Occasionally I find the odd furry lemon or a puddle of what-had-been-parsley in the back of the fridge. The good news is that compost sucks carbon out of the air.