‘Zero Waste Cooking for Dummies’
by Rosanne Rust
Rosanne Rust is a renowned nutrition expert and prolific author, having already published eight diet and nutrition-related books, including two ‘For Dummies’ publications. She is an advocate for sharing insights, tips, and hints on easy to adopt strategies for healthier diets and more nutritious meals. I’ve followed Rosanne on Twitter for some time and her communication of factual information establishes her as someone who is committed to ensuring her readers and followers receive information that benefits them. She has now turned her attention to a vitally important topic for all societies, how to best reduce food waste.
A cookbook that cares about your food & its waste
The thing I like most about this book is that it gets to the heart of the matter on the very first page, an increasing rarity in today’s world of verbal volcanos. A common concern about many recent books relating to food, food production, nutrition, and diets is the attempt to shame the reader about their current practices. Many food book authors prefer to use their book as a pedestal to lecture readers about all the things they are doing that are wrong, advocating for an end to such practices. Refreshingly, Rust refuses to venture down this path, instead, she informs readers that her objective is to share factual insights about the impacts of food waste, not criticizing readers. She also refutes the notion that to reduce food waste, people need to become vegetarians or to completely reject meat-based protein from their diets, referring to this notion as “unrealistic”.
Helping us connect to zero-waste cooking
Perhaps the most profound observation Rust makes at the start of this book is that she connects the physical waste of a product to all of the energy, money, and time that was invested in providing the product. For instance, when a package of leafy greens is thrown away, it’s not just a $3-4 loss that goes into the trash, it’s also the cost from production to sale, which includes inputs like seed, fertilizer, insecticides, and water needed to produce it, the labour to seed and harvest it, and the fuel and labour required to transport it from the point of production to our local grocery store. Each time we throw an unused food product away, especially produce, the costs ripple back up the food system and we end up throwing away far more than $4. Not only are we tossing away money, we end up wasting so much more in time, resources, and energy. According to Rust, estimates on the cost of annual food waste in America alone identify that the average household of 4 individuals throws away $1500 (USD) worth of food, amounting to $160 billion nationally for retail and household waste.
It’s important to understand that reducing food waste in Rust’s book is focused on the foods we prepare for eating. She is addressing food waste as a means to help readers understand, organize and reduce cooking waste. Reducing food waste focuses on post-preparation and our first consumption of a meal. Rust highlights that reducing food waste isn’t simply going to occur as a result of happenstance, but that it requires planning and some forethought. One gem she shares is the importance of considering how left-overs can be used to create subsequent meals in the following days, resulting in greater flexibility and versatility of how we view food items within our diet.
Connecting us back to the soil
In the research for this book, Rust has devoted considerable time to talking to experts across food supply chains, which results in factual information about the relationship between sustainable food production practices and consumer preferences. Rust identifies that the soil is the most important asset for farmers and regardless of the methods chosen to produce our food, they take great care to ensure that they are constantly seeking better ways to reduce the environmental impacts from food production. An important component of the book are the details about how farmers have a variety of options for growing food and that each chooses what works best for them and their land, however, the safety of the food that is produced is the same, regardless of the methods chosen, be it organic, conventional or the use of genetically modified crops. The provision of factual information about food production and farming, while not advocating for one method over another, allows the reader to make informed decisions about future food purchases.
Start small. Plan big. Zero-waste over time.
An essential message Rust conveys, which we all need to remember is that we don’t have to target a zero food waste household overnight. It’s better to take our time to learn and reduce our waste than try and give up when we aren’t reaching perfection right away. To help with this, she offers insightful suggestions on how to examine present food usage and then tweak what you’re doing. Suggestions like noting what unused foods get thrown out are a good first step. Making sure that leftovers that end up in a deep freezer get used up in a short period can make a noticeable reduction in waste. By providing a veritable menu of suggestions, readers will find ones that better resonate with them and their households, allowing them to get the fundamentals of a plan for waste reduction in place. With a few minutes of attention every week, waste reduction practices will rapidly develop, and within the course of a few months, reduced household waste will be transformed from a goal to an accomplishment. Often, the more grandiose a plan is, the greater the potential for failure; simplicity matters.
At the end of the day, diets are about balance and Rust reinforces this tenant throughout her book. We don’t need to be so fixated with the food consumption that we religiously follow recommended food guides each and every day, but over the course of a week, we can find opportunities to achieve a better-balanced diet with minimal effort. In Canada, food prices are estimated to rise by up to $1000 this year, so there is perhaps no more important book that people should be thinking about purchasing this year. The simplest way to reduce the amount of money a household spends on groceries is to lower the amount of those groceries that are thrown away unused.