Zero Waste Chef is my jar-hoarding alibi, and she could be your next favourite kitchen accomplice too

I am a jar hoarder.

And the Zero Waste Chef is my alibi.

I have a weird inability to throw old jars into the recycling bin. Instead, I tuck them in the drawer, for future use. (And every now and then my partner silently stages a protest slash intervention and culls them all. And I start over, undeterred.) There is some part of me that believes we are going to run out of jars, one day, globally, as a civilization, and my foresight will mean I have plenty of storage devices that smell faintly of decades-old peanut butter or salsa.

It may be because the biggest environmental battle that informed my childhood was over Fraser Island, a sand island off the coast of Queensland that was being dredged for sand, to make, you know, glass, for jars, and windows, and screens, and concrete.

I was so happy today to see that University of Queensland scientists have partnered with industry to create a process for making cement that using recycled glass. We want our grandkids to be able to play on the beach, they said. And after water, sand is one of the most expensive and hard to find commodities in the world right now.

Dr Mehdi Serati from UQ’s School of Civil Engineering said the amount of sand in the world was finite, so ingenuity was necessary to solve the problem of a looming shortage.

“If we don’t do something about sand depletion at a global scale, our grandchildren are not going to see sandy beaches,” Dr Serati said.

“Over the past 20 years the cost of sand has increased by six times, and it’s the second most consumed natural product globally, after fresh water.“

I’m Australian, so sandy beaches are sacrosanct. Life in Australia doesn’t make sense if there are no sandy beaches. It’s just unimaginable.

And so, I merrily hoard.

Which means I was even happier this week when the Zero Waste Chef book arrived in the mail.

I’ve been following Anne-Marie Bonneau on instagram for a while. She’s core. Super core. She knows how to make ginger beer from ginger bugs from ginger, sugar and water. She knows how to make kombucha. She’s an evangelist for sourdough and fermentation, calling “Fermentation an act of defiance against our broken food system.” All the things I’ve been learning about, she’s the resource.

“I’m not claiming that fermentation will save the world. But preparing food this way does put us more in tune with the natural world – the food is alive, after all – and that might lead us to better preserve and protect the world.”

Anne-Marie Bonneau

She’s motivated to help us kick our plastic-addiction. You could join Plastic Free July and see if you can reconfigure your summer days to avoid single use plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and plastic straws.

It’s really about rethinking “disposable”, because lovelies, nothing is disposable. Nothing is so without worth or value on this Earth that we should just mindlessly chuck it away.

Bonneau recommends developing a zero-waste kit… you don’t have to go buy any fancy stuff – “we can’t shop our way out of the climate crisis”, she says. Just put together an on-the-go shopping kit (of shopping bags, produce bags and jars or containers), and a out-and-about kit (a stash bag with water bottle, utensils, cloth napkin, jar or metal container and produce bag.) Wherever you are, if you get a craving for a coffee, a snack, or a smoothie, use your own container. Pandemic precautions have put a pause on a lot of these practices, but we need to get back on them, as soon as we can, and try and counter the impact of all those disposable masks. Aaaagh.

Your Zero-Waste Kit works like a shield to deflect unwanted single-use trash

The Zero Waste Chef

Also, to solidify her status in my heart, once she posted: we don’t need four more people to do zero waste living perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly. And that was it. She’d won me over. I don’t really need any more aspirational benchmarks that I’m incapable of meeting, because I’m flawed, flailing, and trapped in a system that means every aspirational thing I want to do, to help improve the world, or life for other people, essentially means swimming upstream.

So, darlings, bring your flawed and flailing selves, bring your big hearts, your hope for your kids, your affection for a grandma or aunty or someone you imagine had a little earth mother wisdom, bring your fetish for collecting jars, bring your love for kitchen experiments and weird science. Bring your friends.

Don’t bring righteousness or judgment and let’s leave the despair at the door. Or in the hammock out back taking a well needed rest.

So, as we pick away slowly at deconstructing and remaking systems that actually flow with life, I’m just gonna do the best I can, and PS Don’t nobody mess with my jar stash.

How creative can you be, at rethinking “waste”? Can you turn old fabric scraps into sandwich wraps? Can you turn last night’s leftovers into tomorrow’s frittata? Can you forego bubbly water and make your own ginger soda? Are you ready to get really next-level and make your own sauerkraut? Or granola bars?

Apart from a host of great recipes, Bonneau’s new book offers this beautiful rethink, which anyone with a garden or a harvest box (CSA) subscription, has bumped hard up against: how do you cook opportunistically, rather than “diligently” to a menu plan and a series of recipes?

“Rather than allowing your cravings to dictate what you’ll make, let the food you have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, serve as the basis for your next dish. This method will eliminate food waste in the home.” It will make us more creative, as parameters tend to do, and that makes cooking more fun, she says. And who doesn’t long for time in the kitchen to actually feel like fun?

It’s a big shift – to start with a pile of ingredients first, rather than with a recipe or a go-to meal (oh, it’s Tuesday, so pull out the taco shells and jar of salsa.) To say, okay, the bok choi is coming up, and there’s still some asparagus in the garden, what shall we eat today… but once we re-orient to this way of thinking, and begin flicking through recipe books with an ingredient-first lens (okay, what features kale, because I sure grow a heck of a lot of kale)… it becomes more natural. Grill some veggies on the BBQ. Turn the leftovers into frittata the next day. Blend up whatever is fresh and green into a pasta sauce, or toss it on a pizza. End of the week – time for leftovers soup or stock with whatever is wilting away in the crisper.

I’ve realised, after decades of anguish about being a sub-par home-maker, that it’s all about having a repertoire. Once you have a few things in the repertoire, everything gets a little easier. You don’t have to think as hard. Habits carry you through. You don’t even realise you’ve graduated and aren’t sub-par anymore, but are successfully keeping your people alive and fed, because you’re not expending anywhere near the same amount of brain space that it once took and you’ve somehow absorbed this story that cooking healthfully and eating well is a giant uphill grind.

Until it’s not.

The biggest shift required is breaking old habits of consuming-out-of-convenience. Convenience has a cost. It’s a kind of Earth-tax. As soon as something is pitched to us as “convenient”, we should get squinty-eyed and start asking about the catch. Someone is going to pay for this. Possibly your grandkids.

The Zero Waste Chef is a good helpmate if you want to, ultimately, be a good ancestor. If you want to enjoy your life right now (which is basically built on the good things that people who came before you have done) AND set up future generations to also flourish and enjoy themselves and play on sandy beaches and eat a yummy sandwich under a tree. As she says, in the first chapter, that has graphs and mathematical equations and that I skipped over to go look at the glossy photos of yummy food, “zero waste isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. You can live a little bit zero waste. And if 10,000 people reduced their waste by 10% that would reduce 10 times more waste than if 100 people got their waste down to zero. The point is, every little bit counts, especially when it’s amplified by a lot of us having a go.

So jump on board. Sign up for her newsletter, follow her on instagram or twitter, and/or buy the book.

A lot of her recipes are on her website, but it’s nice to have the book on hand as a reference – especially when it comes to things like fermentation, which are processes that I find I need to read about, again and again. And if you missed the pandemic sourdough train, or fell off and want to get back on, there are a ton of recipes for things to do with all the starter. Including how to make the starter. (But my favourite chapter is called Naked Snacks and Natural Sodas. Naked snacks probably are the type that will make you feel better naked, but it really means no packaging. )

Jordie and Steph from Solscapes pose in one of their client’s edible gardens. via

So, your summer mission, should you choose to accept it: Eat naked. Save your jars. Carry a napkin and a mug and a fork wherever you go. Shorten the distance from food to plate. Go barefoot, so the idea of lightening your footprint connects to an actual sensation of bare toes and soil. Have fun.