The Zero Waste Chef's New Cookbook Will Help You Slash Food and Packaging Waste

Learn to 'cook like Grandma' with this smart and timely guide.

Zero Waste Chef empamosas
The Zero Waste Chef's 'empamosas with cilantro chutney'.

Zero Waste Chef

The Zero Waste Chef has written a cookbook! This wonderful blogger and Instagram personality, whose real name is Anne-Marie Bonneau, has been a favorite on Treehugger for years. Finally, she has distilled her clever tips, tasty recipes, and accumulated wisdom into a beautiful book called, not surprisingly, "The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet" (Avery, 2021).

The book starts with an introduction to zero waste living, explaining that the average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash every day and that a mere 9% of plastic gets recycled in the United States. These numbers, added up across the nation, reveal the horrific quantities of waste being created for things that Bonneau says can be made from scratch without any packaging whatsoever. 

She describes the benefits go beyond waste reduction, such as boosting dietary health. "When I eliminated the waste, I eliminated packaged, highly processed food," she writes.

She started preparing fermented foods, like sour cream and hot sauce, and reveled in the new sense of independence from Big Food's "best efforts to keep us helpless in the kitchen." She has become more mindful: "To reduce my waste, I had to examine every aspect of my life, make decisions more intentionally, slow down, and live more simply."

zero waste chef cookbook cover

Zero Waste Chef

The book then delves into cooking philosophy, which must change when one takes a zero-waste approach. Instead of buying ingredients for a recipe, you must choose a recipe based on ingredients—a counterintuitive approach for many, but necessary to avoid wasting food.

Bonneau's suggestion to always think ahead to the next recipe is also crucial: 

"Contemplate the next incarnation of the bits left over from prepping, or the leftover dish itself. If you make nut milk, for example, you may decide to use some of the leftover pulp in granola the next day and some in the topping of the Any-Fruit Crunchy Crumble the day after that. Hang on to the peels and cores from the apples you chose for your crumble to make Apple Scrap Vinegar. Use the vinegar to later make the As You Like It Honey Mustard. Add some mustard to the salad dressing for the One-Bean, One-Vegetable, One-Grain Salad."

Bonneau dedicates a couple of pages to freezing food in glass jars—a topic that reliably sparks debate among readers. In fact, she advised Treehugger on this topic several years ago.

Jars are her favorite tool and she admits to having a full-blown jar obsession: "I can't hoard enough jars, although I won't settle for just any jar I can get my hands on (a good rule to follow for just about everything in life)." Jars are useful for canning, keeping produce fresh, freezing, grocery shopping, packing and weighing down fermented foods, and more.

Interestingly, the basis for many of Bonneau's recipes is fermentation. This can be a tough switch for some people, but she maintains it's incredibly easy once you start. Waiting for food to ferment "runs counter to the consumer culture that so many of us grew up in [and] too much convenience has created an ecological crisis."

But if you can find the patience, you tackle food waste on another level by preserving it. Take milk, for example, which can easily be turned into yogurt: "The bacteria present in the small amount of yogurt you added will have transformed your milk into a fresh batch of yogurt, which keeps for many weeks longer than the original milk would have."

The recipes are wonderful, particularly those in the chapter called "You Can Make That? Staples and Scraps." These provide directions for making basic building block-type recipes that are hard to find unpackaged and thus could be seen as an obstacle to going zero waste. Hot sauce, sour cream, tortillas, ketchup, mustard, tomato paste, lemon curd, vanilla extract, buttermilk, sourdough starter, and more are set out with clear, concise directions, as well as a generous pinch of humor.

Zero Waste Chef pizzas
Sourdough Pizza with Tomato-Garlic Sauce.

Zero Waste Chef

The recipes also build on each other, illustrating the point above about imagining the dish's next incarnation. There are numerous suggestions for using up leftover whey (from making ricotta), squeezed nut pulp (from making nut milk), a discarded sourdough starter that doesn't have enough yeast for bread, and leftover apple and tomato scraps. It's easy to see how following the suggested month-long meal plan at the back of the book would slash one's food waste significantly.

At no point does Bonneau promise it's easy to go zero waste. It is apparent that it requires a total shift in the way one approaches food, diet, and life in the kitchen, but her portrayal of it is approachable, educational, and enormously inspiring. It's impossible to finish this book and not want to start your own vinegar immediately.