My interview with Anne-Marie Bonneau, the Zero Waste Chef

I’m absolutely delighted to share my interview with famed foodie and blogger Anne-Marie Bonneau, also known as the Zero Waste Chef. On her blog and Instagram, she shares how her family lives Zero Waste, while creating the most delicious meals. (I tried to tell her that she’s a legend in the Zero Waste world. However, as you’ll see, she’s very humble and doesn’t believe me.)

Although I’m far from a gourmet chef, my own Zero Waste journey has me experimenting in the kitchen more often, batch cooking and baking for the week ahead, and making more from scratch. Needless to say, I’m very inspired by Anne-Marie!

Her motto and food rules are: “No packaging. Nothing processed. No waste.” Sounds intimidating? Her joyful personality and positive energy will change your mind! Here’s what she had to say about how busy families can join the Zero Waste movement, how to get your kids into the kitchen, and why we should have hope for the future.

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I’ve been flirting with a Zero Waste lifestyle since my university days, but finally jumped in 2019. Instantly I learned about you. You’re a very well-known, powerful figure. How does that make you feel?

Oh gee, I don’t know! I don’t think of myself as a role model.

When we started, we read Beth Terry’s blog, “My Plastic Free Life”. There are other bloggers influenced by Beth, and there’s this ripple effect. It keeps spreading and spreading! For example, we give cloth produce bags away at farmers’ markets and it starts conversations.

Plastic has become so invisible to us.

Yes, and it’s not just the plastic itself—it’s the lifestyle that plastic enables. Plastic fuels consumerism, I think. Because how can we have all these consumer products—all the junk food and processed foods—without plastic? It can also lead you to buy more than you need, which leads to more food waste. And cutting the plastic has made us more aware of all types of waste.

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Your three rules in the kitchen are: no packaging, nothing processed, no waste. How did this way of cooking and living come to be?

I believe it was in 2011 or 2010. I had been reading about the Plastiki, the catamaran built out of thousands of plastic bottles and other waste materials. They sailed it from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the oceans. That got my attention, and then I started reading about the five gyres, and I felt horrified! I thought, oh, the poor albatrosses with plastic in their stomachs. I told my older daughter, who was 16 at the time, “We have to get off the stuff!” We just can’t be a part of this.

I didn’t know where to start, and then we found Beth Terry’s blog. That’s how it started. I remember standing in the bathroom tissue aisle at the store. My daughter looked at me and said, “How are you ever going to do this?” Slowly, step by step, I figured it out, and now I don’t find it difficult. And it’s had so many benefits.

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What sort of benefits?

Well, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. My diet isn’t perfect—my daughters are great bakers! I used to buy these impulse buys at Trader Joe’s near the checkout, but now, I don’t even want any of that. I’ll have fruit, or hummus and crackers or veggies. Or freshly baked cookies!

So, my diet really improved. And then I started to make and eat a lot of fermented foods. It’s really helped my gut. I used to catch every cold that went around, and now I just don’t. There may be other factors involved, I’m sure the healthy bacteria play a huge role.

I also have a purpose now, and I live more intentionally. That naturally makes you happier.

Plus, I save money! We buy less, eat lower on the food chain, and buy a lot of ingredients to make DIY ingredients instead of consumer products. It’s so inexpensive!

It’s just fun, too! It’s like a game—how much farther can I take this?

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Are you Zero Waste in other aspects of your life?

Oh yeah! I focus on food because, well, I’m a foodie. But actually most of our waste originally came from the kitchen.

Why should the average person care about waste they produce while preparing meals?

We can’t keep consuming the way that we are. We’re going to run out of resources! I don’t want to say that I’m preachy, but it really is a moral issue.

Plus, with the IPCC reports that have come out [the most recent of which reported that one million species are at risk of extinction due to human impact and the climate crisis] people are starting to realize how serious it is.

Reducing your waste isn’t about sacrifice—it has enriched our lives. I don’t waste time buying, shopping for, and caring for stuff I don’t need. I don’t have to work as hard to earn money for stuff I don’t need.

Bea Johnson and I were both presenters at an Earth Day event recently. She said, “what do you have to lose?” She said the only thing that people regret about going Zero Waste is that they hadn’t done it sooner!

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Many people find the Zero Waste movement intimidating and overwhelming. I’m a mom of a toddler and I know many other moms who are basically running on empty. Between daycare/school/activities, shift work and busy (often changing) schedules, and the stress that so many parents are dealing with, it can seem daunting. Many people feel the need to rely on processed, packaged foods to get through their days. What do you say to these people? 

People can be intimidated by the “zero” in Zero Waste. You can’t change everything overnight—it’s just not possible. You’ll lose your mind! Start slowly—choose one thing to do, and then when you have that down, choose something else. Find your farmers’ market and bring cloth bags, for example.

For food, I find it helpful to do food prep on the weekend, when I have time. If I don’t get to the farmers’ market and do a little bit of prep, my week is harder. And I don’t cook from scratch every night. No one has time for that! I can’t come home from work and start cooking from scratch at 5:00. Make large amounts of food and freeze some for later. Planning is such a big part of it—thinking ahead a little bit so you’re not tempted to get a takeout pizza.

I think whatever you do cook needs to become something else later. Like yesterday, my daughter made pesto with ravioli, roasted asparagus, and fava beans. It can become pesto orzo salad later. It was amazing! Oh, that’s another thing—get your kids involved in the kitchen.

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Oh, I’d love to get your tips and suggestions for getting kids involved in the kitchen! My son is almost two. Any tips for that age?

When my daughter was about 18 months, I remember her pushing the chair up to the kitchen counter and climbing on it. She stood on the chair and she’d help me dump flour into the stand mixer. We lived in Hamilton, Ontario, at the time and it was freezing cold outside. We did a lot of baking together!

I had big jars of flour even before I was Zero Waste, just because it was easier to scoop out. I’d show her: take a knife and stir the flour to aerate it, and then scoop it out with a measuring cup. Then she’d put it in the bowl for me. I’d have her do whatever. Now she’s an amazing cook! Just give them little jobs.

When they’re older, you can get them to count out nuts, or help measure things, scrape down the batter. Kids looove to help!

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This last question is a little depressing, but something I’ve been thinking about it recently. Sometimes it seems like the more you learn about the problems, the more depressing it can be. Climate/environmental anxiety and depression are very real concerns. Do you struggle with this? Any tips? Do you have hope for the future? 

Eco-anxiety is real. There was a good article in The New York Times a while ago. It said something like, “Climate change is impossible to fix. Let’s do it.” The author was saying that we need to keep fighting and losing and fighting and losing until we win. You need to imagine Sisyphus happy—just rolling that stone up the mountain, happy. Otherwise you lose your mind. That was a good article.

There’s also a quote by Wendell Berry that I put in a recent blog post, “Why Change if No One Else Will?

Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” — Wendell Berry

So you have to keep trying, for a few reasons. One is: well, what’s the alternative? The other is that you retain your sanity if you’re trying. Imagine being in Britain in World War II. The Germans are bombing every night and you have to go into a bomb shelter—I can’t imagine! Millions of people are being killed, and the British responded. They had victory gardens, and everybody pitched in. That’s the kind of response we need now. I think it’s coming.

Do you? I’m so glad you say that.

People are taking to the streets! And it’s not going to stop. Look at Greta Thunberg—people will listen to a sixteen year-old-girl. You see kids out in the street protesting.

And we’re in the majority, I think. The majority of people want to see something be done about climate change. There’s just that handful at the top that don’t. It’s hard, I get upset sometimes. But I’m hopeful.

 

Thank you so much, Anne-Marie! To follow her cooking, baking, and fermenting adventures, check out her blog. Do you have a question or comment? Are you a fan of the Zero Waste Chef blog, or is this your first introduction to Anne-Marie? I always love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment, or hop on over to my Instagram page to join the conversation there.

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