Ok, so first things first: a massive apology for how embarrassingly late this interview has come to you lovely people. About 3 months to be exact! But they say you leave the best to last, and I have to say this is a gem of a green life right here!
Fellow blogger and my ultimate cooking inspiration, Zero Waste Chef, makes living waste free and cooking from scratch seem easier than finishing off a cool glass of white wine on a hot summers day! From buying fresh, local and seasonal; to using up every last morsel of food. Being the lazy old fool I am, I tend to watch with amazement but rarely give her recipes a go; though her ideas and food knowledge never cease to amaze me.
Alongside her blog, Anne-Marie also hosts regular webinars and workshops to help others learn the skills of waste free cooking where she lives in California (dream home BTW!). In fact, as I will be finishing off my backpacking travels in San Francisco next year; I’m very much hoping I can catch one of these and learn a thing or two myself!
“I write a food blog about zero-waste cooking. For zero-waste produce, I shop at my farmer’s market. When I run out of staples such as beans, rice, flour or loose-leaf tea, I take my glass jars and homemade cloth produce bags to grocery stores that have really good bulk bins and fill up there. At home, I cook everything from scratch. I make my own broths, all sorts of fermented foods—yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, buttermilk, sourdough bread—and I try to use everything up. Thank goodness for soup. You can throw into soup all sorts of produce that might otherwise go to waste.”
What does green living mean to you, and how do you incorporate it into your life?
To me, green living means minimizing my environmental footprint. I’ve been thinking about sustainable living for most of my adult life, even before people started using that term (but certainly haven’t always been as green as I am now) and have concluded that healing the planet starts with food. I can cut down on driving and transportation but still need to eat. So I make informed choices about food. I eat local, organic food as much as possible. This cuts down on the miles the food has travelled, reduces the use of energy-intense farming practises, supports my local farmers and—maybe my favourite reason of all—reduces my dependency on corporations.
The American industrial food system is a mess. We waste 40% of our food, 1 in 6 people is hungry and Big Food churns out food-like products, but not real food. To fix our food system, I believe people need to learn how to cook—and to take it even a step further—how to grow their own food again. We’ve lost a lot of knowledge. Recently, my daughter sprouted some beans and I thought it was so awesome. I tweeted a picture of her sprouts-in-progress and told her how proud I felt. She turned to me and said, “Calm down. People have done this for hundreds of years.” She’s right, but today, sprouting your own beans, brewing wine yourself and baking a loaf of bread are all small acts of rebellion. I’m probably on some FBI watch list because I make my own ketchup :p
Why do you think it’s important to live a sustainable lifestyle?
With climate change already affecting the planet and, if we stay on our current trajectory, heading towards catastrophe, sustainability is necessary for our very survival as a species. My friends, family and colleagues support my efforts, but occasionally someone will tell me that individually, we make no difference and I should be less OCD. But they don’t understand that my attempt at a sustainable lifestyle has resulted in a much more enjoyable one. I take time to cook rather than work extra hours so I can buy more stuff I don’t need. I cleaned up my diet in 2011 and I simply do not get sick (knock on wood). I haven’t has so much as the sniffles in over three years. You can’t put a dollar value on that.
What have you found the easiest thing to implement?
I always take my mug with me to the café I like to work in (I’m an editor for a small book publisher). It cuts down on disposable paper cups (which are lined with plastic). That’s an easy change anyone can make. Carrying a water bottle is also very easy. After a while, you get used to carrying it around. You mug becomes like your keys—you don’t leave home without it.
What habits have you found tricky to get started or maintain?
It’s been very difficult to ditch the car. We don’t have much of a public transit system here in Silicon Valley and people do love their cars. I try to drive less and think twice before getting into my car. I mostly work from home and have started to take the train to the office on the few days I have to go there. Or I ride to my boss’ house and we carpool. I bike quite a bit—to the farmer’s market, the grocery store and the café. I reduce my emissions and have recently cancelled my gym membership because I get enough exercise biking (plus the scenery from my bike beats that of the gym). But I still chauffeur my daughter around.
What’s your favourite idea or tip for living green without costing too much time or money?
“Learn to cook” is my answer to so many problems, including how to live more sustainably. If you cook from scratch, you increase your self-reliance, eat healthier food (unless you only bake chocolate chip cookies), buy seasonal produce, cut the packaging waste and, if you want the best produce, you either shop more at the farmer’s market or grow your own.
I stick with easy recipes and am basically obsessed with fermentation. It preserves food, increases the nutritional value, uses basically no energy, tastes delicious and is so easy to do. But I do have to plan ahead. Starters like sourdough and cultures like buttermilk and yogurt need little care, but they do need that care regularly. I simply keep track of when to feed them on my calendar and plan ahead on what day I’ll bake bread. The bread dough does all the work, but I do have to be home to supervise and perform a few tasks here and there to complete it.
So, my one thing would be to learn how to make something from scratch that you ordinarily buy premade. Start with something easy, like making vegetable broth from scraps.
Who or what keeps you inspired?
When not working, cooking or blogging, reading keeps me inspired. I love food author and activist, Michael Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed my life. Fermentation guru Sandor Katz, wrote The Art of Fermentation—my bible. And of course, I’m a huge fan of Julia Child. She taught Americans how to cook, beginning with the publication of The Art of French Cooking in 1961.
I just finished reading Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall, and am currently reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein.
I highly recommend both books for anyone interested in sustainability, or wondering why it matters and what to do about it. And of course, other bloggers inspire me. I wish I had more time to read all of the wonderful posts out there about sustainability and food. I’ve found so many. It’s inspiring to see “regular people”—not just the food superstars—changing their lives and changing the world. It gives me hope.