You’d like to eat and cook more sustainably but don’t know where to start? Or you started but somewhere along the way got busy, discouraged, or confused, and gave up?
That’s okay. It’s normal.
The key to making a difference, says Lindsay Miles, is finding a level of change – even just one thing – that works for you, and your life. Change that fits in with where and how you live, your budget, your health. Everyone’s different, and that means what we can do, and keep doing, is different, she says. And she wants to encourage us to find joy in what we are doing, rather than feeling guilty about what we’re not doing.
“We have to drop the idea of ‘perfect’,” says Perth-based Miles. Since 2013, when she started her website, Treading My Own Path, she’s been writing, giving talks and teaching workshops about living with less waste and less stuff. And along the way, she says, she’s learned that making good choices can seem challenging.
Are food miles more important, or eating seasonally? Is it better to reduce your carbon footprint, or to put less stuff in the bin?
She hopes to help cut through some of the confusion with her new book, The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen.
The book is informative and practical, taking in everything from the background on the current food system to how to use apple cores to make apple cider vinegar.
“My sustainability journey started when I did Plastic Free July in 2012. I started writing my blog in 2013 and at the start, I was very enthusiastic and very 'everyone can do this!' and that sort of thing. Then, because I've got quite a big readership on my blog and I really try to reply to all the comments, we have really good conversations on there and the more I did it, the more I realised, you know, what if you have five children, what if you are in a wheelchair, what if you have a physically demanding job … what's easy for me isn't necessarily easy for someone else. And vice versa. The more you talk to people, the more you realise, everyone's got a different approach, everyone does things differently.
“There are always going to be people that will be able to be more, and we shouldn't feel guilty if we're not the person who can do everything. … Everything that we do, every change that we make, is going to be better than not doing that. Feel good about that, rather than feeling guilty about all of those other things that we theoretically could be doing,” she suggests.
And food, she says, is a great way to take steps towards a more sustainable life. “We all eat, so everyone’s got an opportunity to do something.”
In The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen, she gives lots of options for what that “something” could be, depending on your job, budget, available time, cooking skills and sustainability priorities.
“The most sustainable way to reduce your impact is in a way that works for you,” she says in the book.
The book, which features illustrations by Madeline Martinez, includes a look at our current food system, and its limitations; and then sections on each of three key, interconnected ways we can make changes: plastic and packaging (including tips for shopping with less, or no, packaging, and helpful advice for those who have limited time or budgets); carbon footprints and climate change (which also looks at things such as the situation with palm oil); and food waste.
The food waste section is packed with practical advice. An example: Re-using glass jars for food storage? Miles has tips for removing old stickers (if a soak in warm water doesn’t do the job, try covering the label in oil and leaving it for a few hours; eucalyptus oil helps remove bits of label adhesive); getting rid of odours from jars that have previously contained stronger-smelling such as pickles and chutneys; and labelling (she likes using a wax pen). There’s plenty, too, on about making the most of the food you buy and keeping it out of the bin, from how to store food in the fridge and freezer without plastic wrap and plastic bags to composting.
Finally, there’s a “getting started in your (less waste no fuss) kitchen” section. This looks at everything from alternatives to single-use items such as paper towel, aluminium foil and baking paper to guides on DIY-ing all sorts of things, from pesto and hummus to nut and seed butter (get her recipe here) and plant milk. If you strain your plant milks, there are ideas for what to do with the leftover pulp, from crackers to macaroons. There’s a list of ideas for what to do with ‘sad’ food, from limp greens to wrinkly veg (wrinkling is caused by water loss so they are great for roasting – and roast vegetables can be frozen), and using up scraps. There are fun ideas like baked chickpea and nut butter balls, and carrot hummus.
Learning to make more things herself has given her a new appreciation for food, Miles says when we chat.
“When I went plastic-free, I started re-evaluating – like, ‘why am I buying yoghurt in a plastic tub, why am I buying bread, why am I buying hummus, why am I buying pesto?’ – and trying stuff out. And some things like pasta were hard to make or time-consuming, then other things like hummus were just so easy. And it went from there." But what's hard for one person might not be hard for someone else, she says.
“That's why I think it's worth giving things a go, once or twice, and then you can decide. It also gives you an appreciation - when you go to the shops, you're like, ‘I know why sourdough bread is expensive, because it takes three days to cook it from scratch’. … it gives you an appreciation of what food is.”
Although there are some recipes in the book, she really wants people to feel free to make things their way. “Recipes are made to be broken,” says one headline in the book. Substitute ingredients, use a bit more or a bit less, try things in a new way. “Being creative is a great way to avoid packaging and reduce food waste, and eating your creations is the best part of all,” she writes.
Occasionally, things won’t work, and that’s okay too.
“It’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen in a straight line. It takes time to research new things, learn the locations of markets or layouts of different stores, adjust schedules, tweak budgets and form new habits. Take on just enough to keep it manageable for you. If you find an idea that you like the sound of, give it a go. When there’s something that doesn’t appeal to you or you know won’t work for you, don’t get angry or feel guilty. Just move on to the next thing. … if it starts to feel a little overwhelming or unmanageable, just slow down. The opportunity to change and do better is always there, and it will wait until you are ready,” she writes.
And just one step is a great place to start. “If we all do one thing, that is a lot of things. Together, we create change,” Miles says on a recent Instagram post.
The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen by Lindsay Miles (Hardie Grant, $29.99, illustrations © Madeline Martinez 2020) is available now in print and e-book. See the events page at the Treading My Own path website for details of online and in-person talks and workshops. You can also find Lindsay Miles on Instagram.
Don’t be bound by my ingredients list – make this curry your own by using any limp veg. For a yummy soup, add another cup of stock, remove the cinnamon stick at the end, and blend on high for a few seconds.
My incredibly talented cousin, Yasmin, who is one of the greatest chefs I have ever worked with, inspired this wonderful recipe. She does not waste anything and that is where these crackers came into being. If you don’t own a juicer, you can just grate up some veggies or use leftover ends of things – just make sure there is not too much moisture in them. This recipe does work best in a dehydrator, but you can use an oven on low heat for almost the same result – it’s just a longer process.