First, waste less food. Then compost. I've got a new motto around here after hearing a few months ago that people tend to waste more food when they know they can compost it. (Source here). "That makes sense," I thought, followed a few seconds later by "Oh no," as I realized that I'm surely a culprit, too. So I'm trying to be a little more mindful, inventive, and on top of things in the kitchen these days: not trying to send zero food to the compost, but simply trying to cast aside fewer edible scraps and fewer fruits and vegetables that went bad before I could use them.
In that vein, I'm sharing a few of the books that I turn to for inspiration, advice, or recipes. You can likely find most of these at your local library, secondhand bookstore, or favorite local spot in your community. In case you can't, or are in the market for a special present for a zero waster, I've included links below as well:
-An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler. If it sounds dramatic to say this book taught me how to cook: it's true. Neither a cookbook nor a memoir, exactly, it's instead a thoughtful look into how to cook simply and economically, guided by recipes but not bound to them. Though the book is full of practical ways to use up food scraps, even better: it helps build intuition about how to cook with what you already have, so that when you find yourself with half a bunch of parsley in the fridge and a recipe that doesn't explicitly call for it, you can trust yourself enough to add it. I also love her recipe for a broccoli stem pesto (which I've outlined roughly here), devotion to turning stale bread into croutons for sprinkling on everything, and how-tos for washing and cooking unusual things like beet greens. (Indiebound | Amazon)
-The Love and Lemons Cookbook, by Jeanine Donofrio. This all-vegetarian cookbook is organized alphabetically by produce, which helps me use what's already in my fridge instead of feeling like I need to go shopping. For example, the asparagus section has a couple of great recipes, the berries section gives several options, and so it goes right on down the line to zucchini. So, when I find myself with a butternut squash but stuck without ideas for using it up, I turn here. Recipes are simple and bright and anything but boring; I reach for this book several times a week. Also included for each recipe is a note on how to make it vegan or gluten-free. (Indiebound | Amazon)
-Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, by Dana Gunders. When I wonder how to freeze beans, how to best store lettuce, what to do with softening apples, I flip through this book. Written by the woman who leads the National Resources Defense Council's anti-food waste campaign, the book offers a mix of practical tips for buying what you need and using what you have, a look into the science behind best food storage and use techniques, and statistics on food waste that are deeply motivating. (Although some of her tips - like relying on plastic bags for freezing - will need to be adapted to incorporate reusable, plastic-free storage options rather than single-use ones). If you're looking to waste less food but aren't sure where to start, consider this book your how-to. (Indiebound | Amazon)
-Canning for a New Generation, by Lianna Krisoff. Canning is daunting, and rightfully so: getting it wrong can introduce pathogens into your food, with disastrous consequences. But following a recipe from a book rather than clicking on a random link from Google gives me confidence that I'm doing it properly, and the premise of this book that we over-complicate canning leaves me feeling encouraged. Most helpful to me have been the recipes for pickles, which I just store in my fridge for eating within the following few weeks. I often quick-pickle cucumbers, radishes, and jalapeños that I don't think I'll be able to use up in time. (Though I also have dreams of purchasing a few flats of tomatoes each summer to can for the winter). (Indiebound | Amazon)
-Zero Waste Home, by Bea Johnson. Many discussions of food waste frustratingly tend to mostly ignore food packaging waste. When I read about companies that use imperfect, cast-off fruit to make juice that comes packaged in plastic, I wonder why wasting said plastic is okay when wasting the fruit isn't. In a better world, we'd work toward reducing food waste and packaging waste hand in hand. Bea offers tips for shopping package-free and making key kitchen staples yourself to cut down on packaging waste. This book is a little more militant than most (Bea offers a no-excuses approach to zero waste that doesn't always sit well with me), but sometimes I like reading books better than reading blogs, so I occasionally check this out from the library for a little refresher course. (Indiebound | Amazon)
What books to you reach for when you have extra food you aren't sure what to do with? Any other favorites to share?
Previously in Food Waste: Passing food along, and ten ideas for using up the ends of vegetables.