Plenty of books can teach you how to cook basic recipes, but there are few that will tell you how to be the kitchen – how to grocery shop, how to ask someone to put ingredients in a reusable container, how to organize your pantry, and what to do when you encounter sad-looking food in the back of the fridge. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen a book that talks about these little details until I read Lindsay Miles’ newest book, “The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen: Simple Steps to Shop, Cook and Eat Sustainably” (Hardie Grant Books, 2020).
Miles is the Australian founder of Treading My Own Path, a blog and Instagram page that focuses on zero waste and plastic-free living. For several years, I’ve been following her work and admire the consistently thoughtful approach she takes. Her blog posts are in-depth, philosophical, and often enlightening, but they always have a practical takeaway for readers eager to make changes at home.
“The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen” has minimal philosophizing (well, none, in fact) and is more of a step-by-step guide for individuals wanting to change the way they buy and handle food on a daily basis. It contains a brief overview at the beginning about why food waste and plastic packaging are such serious problems and how each of us can make a difference by changing personal habits. Miles writes, “We eat at least three times a day, every day – which means plenty of opportunity to make simple switches.”
Subsequent chapters delve into the topics of packaging and how to get started with zero waste; shrinking a diet’s carbon footprint by adopting more local, plant-based foods; reducing food waste at home and sending less to the landfill, through better organization and composting; and a collection of useful recipes for DIY items that can save you packaging and/or money. If a reader has experience with zero waste living, much of this information will already be familiar, but for a beginner it’s a goldmine of knowledge – stuff I wish someone had told me years ago!
Miles offers some useful lists about swapping like for like in recipes, which is a crucial waste-reduction strategy to use up things we already have: “Most protein can be switched out for other protein, grains for other grains, nuts or sees for other nuts and seeds, and so on … Over time we learn our favorites and when we see a recipe that uses something else, we switch in what we have.” She has charts for dealing with “sad food” that’s past its prime, how to revive it or use it with discarding.
For people who eat animal-based products, she explains how switching from certain products to others can make a difference. For example, “Switching from beef, lamb and pork to poultry means a lower carbon footprint” and “Soft (less dense) cheeses including ricotta, cottage cheese, cream cheese, brie, gorgonzola and feta have a lower carbon footprint than hard cheeses because they take less milk to produce.”
Miles is an advocate for organic food and urges people to do what they can to work it into their diets (even if it’s just buying the items that appear on the Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen list). As for the cost being higher than conventional produce, she offers some perspective:
“The reality is that industrially farmed and processed food is often artificially cheap. The reason ‘conventional’ non-organic produce is cheaper is that the price doesn’t reflect the real cost – particularly the cost to the environment.”
I appreciate Miles’ emphasis on people doing what they can and not thinking they have to strive for zero waste perfection right off the bat. Going zero waste can mean adopting small changes in daily life:
“As we learn that there’s a great bakery next to the school, or a bulk store with late-night opening that we drive past after work, we can start to adjust our day to fit these trips in and avoid making separate ones.”
“The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen” is a useful book for anyone who wants to reduce their food-related impact, and it can be used either as a training manual for beginners or a reference book for people wanting to take their efforts a step further. You can order it online.