If you’re aiming to be a more planet-friendly person this year, you can follow the examples of chefs who have made a commitment to reducing food waste and being more environmentally friendly in their own kitchens.
Of course it’s true that many of us — including these chefs — can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the issues facing our planet, but just one person can make a difference, they said. Consider this thought from cookbook author and chef Robin Asbell, who told HuffPost: “It’s easy to feel like one person in a sea of billions. But every plastic bottle of the thousands in the ocean was thrown there by someone who thought that way. Instead, do what you can, and try to influence the people around you to do what they can. Your food choices have power, so use that power to make a difference.”
Eliminating food waste can be a good overall goal for the year ahead. Alison Mountford, chef and founder of Ends and Stems, a digital meal planner platform that helps home cooks reduce food waste, said wasted food in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas that’s at least 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide. “Food waste in a landfill decomposes without oxygen, and if that waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world,” she told HuffPost.
Here’s a bonus: There’s a “green lining” in store for your wallet if you follow some of these tips. All these chef suggestions are not only good for the earth, but they’ll save you money, too. Here are some smart ways to do your part:
Tip #1: Start a stock bucket
Asbell offered a green practice that she learned while working as a soup and saucier at a French-inspired restaurant: using a stock bucket. “All the trimmings from onions, celery, carrots, zucchini and the stems of parsley and herbs were always saved in a bucket in that restaurant,” she said. “It’s a way to create value from what would have been waste. At home, I try — although I’m not always perfect — to use the trims to make soup stock. Whatever I don’t use for cooking, I compost.”
Tip #2: Master a few fridge-clearing recipes
“If you’re going to cook end-to-stem, you need to get comfortable with a few ways to clear out the fridge before food goes bad,” Mountford said. Think of it like the way chefs create a “daily special” to reduce the inventory in restaurant kitchens. Some of Mountford’s suggested recipes include: pasta sauce, pizza toppings, stir-fry, frittata, soup or a sheet pan dinner with an easy sauce.
Tip #3: Have a restaurant staff meal — at home
“If you’re a green chef, whether in a professional kitchen or at home, you’re always watching for waste, looking for ways to improve and keeping up with the latest information,” Rob Connoley, chef and owner of Bulrush restaurant, told HuffPost. Located in St. Louis, his restaurant focuses on foraged and hunted foods rooted in the Ozark tradition.
He suggested following the example of restaurant “family meals,” when staff eat together before the start of service. Those meals often use excess ingredients or those reaching their best-by date. “In a professional kitchen, anyone on staff may be asked to make family meal, so it often becomes a diverse, eclectic rotation of unfamiliar but satisfying meals,” he said. “At home, task your children to be part of the rotation and decide what to make for family meal one night each week. One of their creations just might become your new favorite.”
Tip #4: Plan more, buy less
“Chefs keep close track of their inventory, because margins are so razor thin in professional kitchens,” Mountford said. “If they spend 2% more on food that isn’t needed, it could potentially cut profits in half.” Take a tip from the chefs by writing a plan for the week, then checking your inventory before you leave to go grocery shopping. “Our memories are faulty, and we tend to overpurchase,” she said. “If you buy just what you’re going to use, you won’t have that feeling of ‘I wish I could be the person I thought I was when I bought all these vegetables.’”
Tip #5: Keep everything visible (but not with plastic wrap)
Anne-Marie Bonneau, who goes by the title “Zero Waste Chef,” said that one way to use the food you have and avoid waste is to store leftovers and other ingredients in glass jars. “Opaque takeout containers mean it’s easier to forget something in the fridge,” she said. “If you notice the walk-in refrigerator in a commercial or restaurant kitchen, you’ll see that everything is easy to see and is labeled and dated.”
If you’ve gotten into the habit of using plastic wrap or aluminum foil to cover leftovers, the lids on those jars will help you avoid that, she added. In her plastic-free kitchen, she manages just fine, putting an overturned plate over a bowl of chilling dough, or using a small Dutch oven to roast beets, instead of covering them with foil first.
Start small, but please start
“Don’t worry about being perfect, because that’s impossible,” Bonneau concluded. “I get questions from people who feel really guilty for a supply chain and a food system they didn’t create. Just do what you can and make some change for the good.”
Asbell added: “Always start with small steps. You can’t save the world by yourself, and you can’t change your entire life overnight, so give yourself some grace. Pick a few habits that are relatively easy to change, like switching to a refillable water bottle, or bringing your reusable shopping bags to the store. Give yourself a pat on the back when you follow through, and if you backslide, forgive yourself and start again.”