Reviewed by Janet Wallace
Waste is a serious global issue. According to the Introduction of The Zero Waste Chef, Americans “generate, on average, 4 ½ pounds of trash per person per day.” I suspect the Canadian stats aren’t much better. Nearly one pound of that daily ‘trash’ is food. This doesn’t just result in a waste of food, but also a waste of the resources used to grow, process, package and transport the food. Bonneau states that “Globally, food waste accounts for 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. (To put this into perspective, the aviation industry generates 2.5 percent.)”
Anne-Marie Bonneau’s The Zero Waste Chef is so much more than just a great cookbook. While the focus is on food waste, Bonneau also addresses ways to reduce the waste (and often the consumption) of plastic food wraps, plastic food containers, aluminum foil and more. The author takes a multi-tiered approach to reducing waste, including “cooking like Grandma,” which basically means cooking from scratch rather than buying processed foods and finding uses for foods and garden by-products that many people might throw out. She suggests that rather than buying specific ingredients just for one recipe, “You already have all the ingredients you need to make a meal.”
Bonneau also recommends ways to store food without using plastic. This ranges from using cloth bags in the fridge; to fermenting fruits, vegetables and dairy products; to freezing food in glass jars.
Waste-free cooking might sound unappetizing, but not when you read the recipes in this book. From tortillas, stir-fry with peanut sauce, dosas, ricotta and ratatouille galette to Mexican hot chocolate bread pudding, Bonneau provides a cross-cultural collection of vegetarian recipes.
Bonneau also provides tips and recipes for fermented products, such as kombucha, buttermilk, fresh salsa, kimchi, ginger beer and “apple scrap vinegar” (tastier than it sounds!). She also provides recipes for the by-products – such as the brine leftover from pickles and dilly beans and sourdough discard, which she uses in sticky buns, tortillas, waffles and more. (Sourdough discard is extra starter – something that home bakers can quickly become overwhelmed with unless they bake every few days. Many cookbooks recommend throwing this valuable and tasty product away.)
The Zero Waste Chef is great for gardeners, who often find themselves facing a glut of vegetables with little time to process. The book is also valuable for people who get all their food from the farmers’ market or grocery store – they can learn from the advice about waste-free shopping, and learn how to save money while creating delicious waste-free meals. I recommend The Zero Waste Chef to both people who are just starting to embrace (or even just considering) this type of waste-free diet and lifestyle and to people who are already cutting back on waste. Most, if not everyone, will learn either a few tips to further reduce their contribution to global waste, or find tastier and more delicious ways to cut down on food and plastic waste.