Waste not, want not

Mountain View zero-waste activist offers recipes, lessons and inspiration

Most interviews don't start with a slice of freshly baked sourdough bread, sips of homemade kombucha and bites of "kraut-chi," an intense hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi.

But Anne Marie Bonneau is not most interviewees. Her bread, kombucha and kraut-chi are all products of her efforts to produce zero waste in her Mountain View kitchen -- and have fun doing it. The bread is made from starter (just water and flour, which she bought in bulk) that's lasted her more than a year. The kombucha -- poured from glass bottles, never plastic -- is made from tea and fermented farmer's market produce like watermelon, mango, elderberry and lavender. The kraut-chi is fermented cabbage, also housed in a glass jar.

For Bonneau, zero waste means using absolutely no plastic, reusing everything, simplifying shopping habits and making almost everything from scratch. It's a minimalist, return-to-roots lifestyle that's gained increasing traction in recent years as people have become more aware of the vast amount of food that goes to waste in America. There are now numerous zero-waste blogs (including Bonneau's, "The Zero-Waste Chef"), books, YouTube how-to videos, news articles and events like Oakland's "Feeding the 5,000," when 5,000 people feast on meals made entirely from food that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Committing to live with zero waste was not Bonneau's first step. It started in 2011, when her then-16-year-old daughter, Mary Katherine, started learning about the environmental impact of plastic waste and started her own blog, "The Plastic-Free Chef." The two soon cut out all packaged food, shopping almost exclusively at farmers markets and buying in bulk using handmade cloth bags and glass jars.

Both mother and daughter describe themselves as "obsessed" with food and cooking. On their kitchen table, next to the loaf of sourdough bread, a bottle of kombucha and a fresh squash sit books like Dan Barber's "The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food" and "Bean Bible: A Legumaniac's Guide To Lentils, Peas, And Every Edible Bean On The Planet!"

After going plastic free, zero waste was an easy and logical next step, Bonneau said.

When Mary Katherine went off to college, she found it difficult to maintain her blog (and a plastic-free lifestyle). Bonneau asked if she could take over the blog; Mary Katherine said, "no way," and so Bonneau started her own, also with an emphasis on cooking.

"The Zero-Waste Chef" offers tips, from shopping to cooking to throwing dinner parties. Recipes abound, from "Clear-Out-the-Fridge Frittata" to fermented hot peppers to flourless chocolate coconut cake. The night before our interview, Bonneau made shredded vegetable fritters from leftover sourdough starter (which she also uses to make pancakes and waffles) and whatever veggies were in her fridge, along with eggs and baking soda, all fried up in coconut oil.

Bonneau also teaches local workshops and free webinars. She hopes to give others the tools to at least begin the process of reducing food waste, even if they don't aspire to be as "hardcore" as she is (she now makes her own vanilla extract, vinegar, shampoo and even deodorant).

Among her recent blog posts is an entry titled, "5 Things I Do that Were Once Considered Normal." On the list: "I reject single-use plastic packaging," "I like to eat food that tastes good" and "I refuse to depend upon corporations to fulfill my every need and desire."

"People have asked if I would sell them my kombucha, but I'd rather just teach them how to do it," Bonneau explained. "I think people don't want to just passively consume stuff. I think they want to actively make things."

Her advice to anyone interested in going zero waste is to start small. Get rid of all plastic bags; use reusable ones. Don't buy plastic water bottles or containers -- glass is always better. Shop at your local farmers market. Meat is admittedly difficult, Bonneau said, but when she does buy it, she brings her own containers to Whole Foods.

Not only will you be doing the environment some good, but your body will also benefit. Bonneau said she eats much better than she did before -- more vegetables and fruit, no processed food, less meat -- and claims not to have had a cold since 2011.

"I had no idea when I started out this way that it would improve my life so much, but it really has," she said. "I don't get sick; we eat really well; it's fun."

Information about Bonneau's upcoming workshops and free webinars are online at zerowastechef.com/register.

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