There is power in deliberation. Conscious inaction can be a good thing. At the beginning of my journey, I kept myself in a state of growing awareness. Mindfulness helped me know what to do and allowed me to set a plan that was tailored to my unique lifestyle and social situation.
Let’s break this down into small bite sized pieces. In this post, we can take a moment to observe our Kitchen & Dining behaviours:
Food waste: Are you finishing the meals you prepare? Do items go dormant in the fridge until they’re thrown away? Recognise patterns.
Animal consumption: Count the number of animal products used to make a meal i.e Ricotta + Chicken = 2. Take note of anything you could live without.
Dormant appliances: Consider that the items in your kitchen should work for the space they occupy. How often is each item put to work? Are they paying their way?
Disposables: Do you use plastic wrap, paper towels, disposable wipes or silicon-coated baking paper? Observe your reliance on these items.
This might seem like it’s only for zero waste beginners, but we can all take a moment to observe where we are at. None of us are perfect. There are insights and opportunities in observations. Be patient with yourself. A change is coming…
Today, I have an astounding hangover after a fun night away with new friends.
Last night, I fed 15 people a low waste vegan meal for $35. For those not in Australia, that’s *incredibly* cheap. I got a massive bag of field mushrooms, 6 large cans of tomatoes, 5 packets of spaghetti, 1 large jar of olives and a giant zucchini for the price of 10 takeaway coffees. In light of #fashionrevolutionweek, the low price of my food begged the questions #whomademyfood? #whogrewmyfood? Were they paid and treated fairly? Nope.
It helps me grow and learn when I call out my own hypocrisy. I like to think that this mindfulness can balance me out and will prevent me from being too pious or evangelical about my lifestyle choices. My purchase was ethical in one way but not in another:
✅ Almost plastic free
✅ Some items entirely package free
✅ Meal was for staff and volunteers of a charity working to build resilience in the pacific in light of climate change.
❌ Food purchased at @colessupermarketswho (among other questionable business practices) subsidises their costs through pokie/slot machines
❌ Ingredients were not ethically sourced / Farmers may have not been treated fairly to produce this food
❌ Non organic / GMO food
❌ Spaghetti made by Barilla who also have reeeally messed up ethical standards.
One thing’s for sure: I did not let the red wine go to waste last night. Today, I meditated in the sun because I’ve forgotten to look after myself these past few weeks. Look after your planet, your body, your mind and others each and every day. Be patient with yourself. Forgive yourself. Nobody’s perfect. Especially not me
The whole range of possibilities was overwhelming and took practice before i had a smooth system in the home. For instance, I’m saving Apple scraps to make homemade apple cider vinegar and after a bit of practice, the vinegar is working really well. But it wasn’t easy to save the scraps in the first place. I went through months of throwing apple cores in the compost and cussing because I’d forgotten that I wanted to save them. I had to ease into this habit.
I’m all about baby steps. My approach to food scraps is the perfect example of new habits growing into wholistic, systematic adoption. I now have 4 freezer bags and a vinegar bottle for saving different types of scraps. Obsessed much? 😂 Here’s how baby steps turned into something bigger:
I started by saving vegetable scraps for stock.
After that, I kept a bottle of vinegar in the cupboard for citrus peels. When full, it makes orange vinegar.
Then, I added a second freezer bag for fruit and mint leaves. When full, I make a batch of iced tea.
During apple season, I added a 3rd freezer bag to make apple cider vinegar from scraps. Pictured is the jar used for fermentation and the watered down ACV drink that makes my belly very happy.
Lastly, I added a 4th freezer bag for sad vegetables or leftovers that I could blend together to make soup. We’re pretty good at making the right amount of food but this was a good fall back just in case our eyes were bigger than our bellies.
It’s seems like an obsession but this all built up very slowly. It helped that the transition to zero waste left us with a surplus of zip lock bags that needed a permanent use. One freezer bag lasts about 2 years with this system.
It also helps that the result of these little steps are truly delicious drinks/food. My taste buds are stoked.
Zero waste on the go! I used to have two individually-wrapped museli bars a day. I now keep a jar of mixed nuts, dried fruit and chocolates in my bag that I can snack on between meals. This simple habit has prevented me from buying impulse snacks when I’m out and about. It’s great for work, car, flights, picnics, bush walks, camping and walking/riding around the city. I love that it’s easy to share too. This small and mighty jar could bring me one step closer to being the cool guy at the pub when we want something to nibble on.
Living the simple life is easier said than done! We’ve been making truly terrible sourdough bread lately. I’m determined to keep practising but there must be an important detail I’m missing. Like everything about me, my sourdough is inconsistent and incapable of settling with one way of being I am creating problem children who grow up to be sad toast, breadcrumbs or worm food.
Our starter has abusive parents. I’ve inherited one quality starter, “Kate”, which got mixed up in a tragic salt accident (totally my fault). I’ve made one from scratch, “Yeastie Boy”. Yeastie attempted to revive Kate but tragically suffered the consequences. Lastly, James and I made a bouncing baby “Phillis” (named from a typo ‘fill us up with bread’). Phillis was left out for too long without feeding. I revived it with organic flour and distilled water. Phillis is still with us (pictured).
Our dough is feeling low. My dough rises *some* of the time. I’ve tried gentle folding and more intense kneading. I’ve had a friend show me how to make this step by step. Maybe the inconsistency is caused by varying temperature and time between working the dough.
This is a post for all my non-vegan earth lovers and for anyone, like me, whose mind is boggled by zero waste dairy. It gets easier. Our approach is to seek out recyclable, reusable or byo packaging and generally eat more plants. While our health and well-being are paramount, we feel that any effort in favour of plant-rich foods should be applauded.
As Michael Pollan says…
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Here’s some food for thought on zero waste dairy:
Adopt something plant-based: I’m a non vegan ex-cheese snob who loves soy milk, coconut yoghurt, nut butter; and macadamia feta. I’ve tried cashew Parmesan and discovered that it’s easier to make myself. It’s great on roast vegetables. As a result, I’m now cooking with nutritional yeast. It’s not always peachy. When our soy boccocini melted into a ‘pearl jam’ consistency, I must admit I struggled to find it appealing 😜
Ask questions: By popular demand, a couple of local dairy farmers are now stocking milk in refillable glass bottles. We want to be a voice in that popular demand. For me, it still takes courage, but I’m getting used to saying “I’m trying to reduce my plastic use, would it be ok to put this in my own container?” I’m looking forward to a day when I can buy soy milk in glass too. We also return egg cartons for reuse.
Avoid plastic: We have found milk, yoghurt and cheese in glass or paper packaging from local suppliers. We buy parmesan in bulk to reduce packaging overall. It’s a conundrum for me that many vegan options are not yet plastic-free in Australia.
Favour local, ethical farmers: We’re lucky enough to live near ethical farmers. When we do buy dairy, we’ll try to support those that are not only ensuring that animals live well, but they also support environmentally sustainable practises in agriculture. Meat and dairy industries vary across the world, so this one takes a bit of research. I’m forever learning and try to be mindful of bias, propaganda and greenwashing.
Make it yourself: I experimented with homemade yoghurt and it’s surprisingly easy! Am yet to make vegan milk, but the recipe for almond milk seems like a no brainer.
Plant-based cheese review from a cheese snob!!
My French-influenced upbringing made me a cheese fiend for most of my life. I understood the difference between cheeses before I knew how to multiply. When I was 3, I liked smoked gouda. When I was 8, my preference was brie. Just like a fine cheese, I was well cultured. Later in life, when I lived with my best friend and vegan buddy, I actually found it easy to be vegan at home… except for cheese.
The bocconcini is ok. The texture matches its dairy counterpart. It melts in an unfamiliar and less attractive way though (it looks like ‘pearl jam’ when melted). It’s soy-based but doesn’t have a soy after-taste (note that I might be biased because I love soy milk). It tastes creamy.
In use: Do not melt. Add to salads and serve cold.
The cashew cheese is astoundingly delicious but you can make this yourself for a fraction of the price. Just grind up some cashews, salt and yeast and save a heap of dollaridoos (As a bonus: Add silken tofu for a creamy vegan béchamel sauce). This jar is far too expensive for what it is but I like that they have exposed how easy it is to substitute the flavour of Parmesan sprinkles. To me, this mimics the cheap Parmesan flakes, not the actual cheese block.
In use: Sprinkle on roast vegetables before putting in the oven. Then make your own after this runs out.
I learned to split my bins, write ‘landfill’ on my kitchen bin, save my scraps, make my own cleaners, use what we have before replacing it, favour long-lasting re-useable items and natural materials, and understand how to store food to maximise its lifespan.
Split my bins & keep the landfill small
The kitchen should have a teeny tiny landfill bin as well as compost, recycling, and potentially a separate soft-plastics recycling bin if this option is available to you. The mindset is that all of these bins should be the last resort for items that come into your home (ie consider using food scraps for stock before composting them).
Our compost bin is bigger than our landfill bin. We keep it on the kitchen bench so it’s front of mind and easy to access. I made it out of a metal tub I found and the lid of an old pot. Essentially, it just needs to be leak proof and have a hole on top to breathe.
Our tiny landfill bin is hidden in the laundry cupboard next to the kitchen (out of sight, out of mind). We also have a soft plastics bag hiding in this cupboard to keep us all sane while we transition as a household.
At our current rate of waste creation, I’ve estimated that we would fill one landfill bin every 8 months, and one recycling bin every 5 weeks. Previously, it would take 2 weeks to fill both bins, mostly from kitchen waste. Shrinking the size of our kitchen bin encouraged us to think twice about throwing things away.
Food scraps have a multitude of uses. They can be turned into stock, iced tea, cleaning products and beauty products. The freezer is a great way to keep food until you’re ready to turn it into something new.
At our place, vegetable scraps are put into a bag in the freezer and then periodically turned into a delicious veggie stock for risotto, paella, soup and stews. On top of veggie scraps for stock, I’ve been saving fruit scraps for iced tea. The core and peelings of stone fruit are perfect to infuse overnight with mint leaves and some red or black tea. It makes a really refreshing cold drink. Meat off-cuts and bones make amazing stock, too. Even coffee grinds can serve a purpose before they go to compost, my favourite is a deep-cleansing body scrub combined with coconut oil.
Make my own cleaners
I hope I never need to buy cleaning products again. Vinegar rules!
Dishes & Hands: Castile liquid soap. We have the same soap pump for both dishes and hands.
Multipurpose spray: Vinegar + Castile soap + water. This spray is used for benchtops, floor, cupboards, oven, fridge, etc. It can even be used on carpet, leather and upholstery.
Orange vinegar: Orange scraps + White vinegar + 2 weeks. The cleaner smells amazing and is highly effective. I also love seeing the bottle/s of orange slices on display in the kitchen. I find it decorative and beautiful. It’s become my own version of cut flowers. I also throw lemon rind in there if I don’t have a use for it.
Baking soda: No recipe needed. Just put it in an old spice shaker and use for scouring the oven, cooktop, kitchen sink, drains, and stubborn grease. Shake on a surface and use the multipurpose spray to see it froth and bubble.
Use what we have before replacing it
Zero waste thrives with a ‘make do’ attitude. Use up what you have before replacing it with a zero waste alternative. Either that, or give it to someone who doesn’t have the same flexibility as you. Hide single-use items out of sight (out of mind) to help reduce any dependency.
We hid items in the garage to see if we could live without them. It worked. As a household, we can live without bags, plastic wrap, baking paper and snap lock bags: so, I was happy to give these away.
I have learned that zero waste thrives with a ‘make do’ attitude. Did I need to buy a metal lunchbox? No. I did not. I could have put leftovers in any jar or plastic container that has been floating around in my cupboards for years. Or I could have bought a plastic lunchbox from a thrift store for $1. Thanks to this very pretty, over-priced lunchbox, I’ve become conscious of why I am buying something. I don’t regret this purchase. It’s encouraged me to form a habit of bringing my own lunch to work. But, I don’t want anyone to think they need to prepare themselves for going zero waste by buying anything. Trust me, you can make do. The goal isn’t perfection, it’s improvement.
Favour long-lasting re-useable items
If anything needs to be purchased, favour long-lasting reusable items made from wood, metal, glass, marble, and natural fabric. Better quality products can be bought second-hand.
When the time comes to replace something in the kitchen, consider natural materials like wood and metal. These are often easier to find at thrift stores (I am looking forward to replacing our old kettle with an antique stove top one).
Beeswax wraps: Substitute for plastic cling wrap
Metal utensils and cookware: With wooden handles.
Glass & Stainless steel containers: For food storage
Wooden chopping board: For fruit, veggies and bread.
Marble chopping board: For chopping meat and cheese.
Store food to maximise its lifetime
Research how to store fruit and veggies to maximise their lifetime. Utilise the freezer. If food starts to go bad, there’s often a recipe that compliments this part of the food’s lifespan (ie old milk makes excellent greek yoghurt, old veggies make great soup and old bananas make sweet smoothies).
Storing food takes a level of observation. I try not to over-stock so I can easily see if something is getting old. I have found a few simple tricks like storing carrots in a jar with a splash of water, or keeping fruit in the fridge to help it stay fresh a little longer in warm weather. I researched the main foods that we eat, and found tips for each one.
If we’re over-stocked, we’ll chop up food for the freezer such as carrots, corn, peas, spinach leaves, minced garlic, ginger, berries and sliced sourdough.
When the pantry gives us sad looking food, I turn to Pinterest for inspiration and see what comes up. Most fruit and vegetables have a recipe that compliments each stage of it’s life.
How to transition to a zero waste kitchen
Write ‘landfill’ on your smallest bin, and split the rest into compost, recycling and soft plastics. Utilise your food scraps by saving them in your freezer. Store food to maximise its lifespan. Consider DIY cleaners. Favour long-lasting re-useable items and natural materials. Use what you have before replacing it.
Even in the big city, I believe that zero waste has a high barrier of entry but this story has a happy ending.
To begin my journey, I spent some sweet dollaridoos on a moon cup, a safety razor, beeswax wraps and a new lunchbox. These items made a significant dent in my weekly budget. A year later, it’s worked out to be financially viable and I don’t need to buy these items again. I tried to not buy anything I wasn’t 100% sure I needed (here’s lookin at you: tongue scraper!). I had to be in it for the long haul with this kit.
Today, I’m fortunate to be able to eat local, organic, plastic-free wholefoods because the soil here is rich and a portion of my income is expendable. I buy organic nuts and grains entirely package free. It’s easier for me because there are bulk stores within walking distance. Compared to the packaged “dollar dazzlers” at major supermarket chains, I started spending a lot more on food… but then something else happened:
I no longer needed to buy beauty or cleaning products.
We didn’t need to buy bin liners, cling wrap, aluminium foil and zip lock bags.
We learnt how to buy and cook exactly what we need, how to store it and how to make use of scraps.
The bathroom cupboard needed little restocking because I was making my own or favouring multipurpose products.
I stopped buying goods brand new and learnt to repair instead of replace.
We sold items because we no longer had a use for them.
We started making more items from scratch like bread and tortillas, which worked out cheaper and more enjoyable.
I realised that major supermarket chains charge more for organic produce (beauty standards?) so we saved by going direct to farmer.
I have a feeling that organic food is why I’m not getting sick as often, so I’m not buying cold & flu medicine all the friggin time… that’s just a theory… I’ll probably get sick now that I’ve suggested that… *cough*
The steep curve eventually balances out. It gets better. It pays off. It’s worth it. But I ain’t gonna tell you it’s easy.
I want to fill my life with as much creative play as possible. Making, experimenting and trying new things is good for our souls. Doing this together strengthens bonds and has the potential to build ritual and knowledge from tasks.
Together is better. We’ve been practising making tortillas, mountain bread, sour dough and naan bread. By shifting dinner from a task to a shared ritual, we’ve change our mindset from “I can’t be bothered cooking” to “let’s cook together”. Being surrounded by modern conveniences, I had lost touch with this way of living.
Quality flour + clean water = freedom. If my partner and I can make these things well, then we‘ll no longer value convenience. Instead, we’ll value quality, core ingredients. It will be more affordable. It will be nutritionally better for us. It will help us tap into traditional cultures and connect with our collective history. It will enrich our lives. It’s a win win win.
I haven’t eaten cow, pig or lamb in almost 10 years. Plus, I’ve hardly eaten any meat in the last couple of months. I’m practically vegetarian. I listen to my body and it rewards me when I feed it an occasional piece of quality meat. I’ll aim to eat anything that has a neutral-positive effect on the Australian environment but I still have much to learn. My approach comes with naive hope that Australia will:
Favour consumption of over-populated pests;
Build up the population of native wildlife through consumer demand; and
Reduce meat consumption overall.
No more binge eating 3-4 types of meat from animals that can’t withstand drought. No more “throw another shrimp on the barbie” or highly televised lamb advertisements in the lead up to Australia day. No more “you don’t make friends with salad”. Respect, diversity and control.
Introduced species such as rabbit, camel and water buffalo are over-populated and problematic for our native wildlife. If they were a popular meat, maybe our native flora and fauna would be slightly better off?
Australia has a lush selection of edible plants and tasty native meats such as emu, wallaby, kangaroo and crocodile. Cruelty aside, if we were farming more natives, surely that’s a better use of agricultural land compared to cattle, pig and sheep farming? It could reduce soil salinity, irrigation and land clearing. Maybe the cattle farmers would maintain employment. Maybe more of our land can be focused on re-wilding initiatives and greater biodiversity.
Supporting any form of monoculture (cow, cotton, soy, etc) can have detrimental effects on the environment. I’m not saying this approach is perfect. It’s just another way to look at conscious consumerism. 🙃
For Aussies: Kangaroo steak can be found at @colessupermarkets and @woolworths_au in the ‘Game meat’ section. Occasionally, we can find rabbit, duck and camel too. These are NOT sold package free. Markets and boutique butchers sometimes have alternative meats where you could try to byo container (still working up the courage to do this myself).
I believe that purchasing alternative food is a vote in favour of diversity. 🐄🐖🐑🐓