Anne-Marie Bonneau shows her cooking class how to make zero-waste sourdough bread. Photo courtesy Anne-Marie Bonneau

Serving up a dish of sustainability

By 
  • September 12, 2021

Concerned about the impact of plastic waste on our environment, Anne-Marie Bonneau set out to cut her family’s garbage to nothing.

A foodie at heart, she stopped buying groceries packaged in shiny plastic containers in 2011 and now makes many of the family staples herself — salad dressing, pasta and even dry yeast. 

Bonneau believes sustainable cooking is possible for every household and started a blog in 2014 which laid the foundation for her first book, The Zero Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet.

Bonneau provides readers with facts to motivate them to waste less and lays out easy tricks to ease them into a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle — like an act as simple as inverting a plate over leftovers to help eliminate plastic wrap.

Bonneau also provides 75 vegan and vegetarian recipes for cooking with scraps, creating fermented staples and using up all the groceries you buy and tips on what to do with leftover ingredients.

“People are afraid of (sustainable cooking) because we’ve gotten away from cooking like this but there’s a renaissance in fermented foods,” said Bonneau, who makes her own yogurt and sourdough bread. “I just made white wine vinegar and it tastes fabulous. I wrote a blog post about it I was so excited. That’s why my book is on food. I wanted to come up with recipes for things that people ordinarily buy packaged.”

Blogging under the moniker Zero-Waste Chef, Bonneau preaches that the “zero-waste” lifestyle is above all an intention, not a hard-and-fast rule. She has captured the interest of thousands over the past decade through her popular blog and amassed over 187,000 followers on Instagram and more than 44,000 on Facebook. She teaches readers how they can keep a loaf of bread out of the trash bin by making Mexican Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding, or give some wilted greens new life with a pesto recipe.

In addition to keeping plastic from the landfill, a bonus of the lifestyle is all the money that can be saved. A family can keep a few bucks in their pocket and eliminate the purchase of a single-use plastic by making their own ricotta out of whey and using the leftovers for sourdough tortillas.

Not a transition to make overnight, Bonneau says it took at least a month for her family to be plastic free. Figuring out shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant was especially challenging. Though it might be more difficult for some than others, Bonneau believes change is possible for most families if they take the time to learn. While it would be a great accomplishment to inspire someone to eliminate waste completely, she says inspiring thousands to do 20-per-cent better would have a greater overall impact. 

Bonneau credits her strict Catholic upbringing for her deep sense of conscientiousness. She grew up at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Belleville and attended Catholic school. Her mother, she says, instilled in her a sense of care for humanity and the principles of the faith which teach that the behavioural decisions of one can impact the wider community.

“She wasn’t strict about everything but was strict about her Catholic beliefs,” said Bonneau. “She taught me to be conscientious through thinking about my actions. Should I be behaving this way? Should I do this? When you care for the environment, you’re not just caring for the planet, you’re caring for the people.”

The married mother of two got started on the path of environmental consciousness as a teenager when she helped her dad build a solar thermal panel for their pool, saving the family $1,000 in fuel expenses every summer. She had been recycling and doing all the other basics for most of her life until 10 years ago when she read about plastic pollution in the ocean and was horrified. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that at least eight million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and it makes up 80 per cent of all marine debris.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Bonneau, who moved from Hamilton, Ont., to California with her husband who works in tech. “You see those images of the albatrosses feeding plastic to their young and animals entangled in the plastic. I was just so disgusted, and I told my daughter Mary Katherine, who was 16 at the time, that we have to get off of plastic. I don’t want to be a part of this.”

Bonneau recognized how much she was contributing to the waste accumulating in the world and believed it was essential for her to keep plastics out of the home as much as possible. This awareness enlightened her about waste in general, learning about the amount of food that goes uneaten in the western world. One statistic she came across said 40 per cent of food produced in the United States ends up in a landfill (Canadian reports show similar trends). This at a time when 2020 reports show that in the U.S. 54 million people faced food insecurity.

“So, we have these two crises at the same time,” said Bonneau. “The good news about food waste is we can eat the food. So that’s how I got started down this road.”

Though Bonneau admits she’s not overly religious today, the core beliefs about care for the common good are ones she takes seriously. A fan of Pope Francis, she’s pleased with the environmental consciousness highlighted in his encyclical Laudato Si’ and the issue of “throwaway” culture which Bonneau says impacts us in more ways than we realize.

“I love what Pope Francis is doing and I was so happy when he wrote on the environment,” said Bonneau. “He talks about our throwaway society and how we’re not just throwing away trash, we’re throwing away people and it’s all related. The way we treat each other, it has to change.”

Bonneau has passed her environmental awareness on to her two daughters. When Mary-Katherine was 16, she started a blog called the Plastic Free Shop. She went to the University of Guelph where she earned a degree in environmental government so she could be an agent for policy change and now works as a recycling outreach co-ordinator in California. Charlotte, the younger sibling, is currently a student at Concordia University in Montreal.

Though she does love to cook and probably spends more time in the kitchen than the average person, Bonneau admits she spends more time on social media. She says with all the time society spends on frivolous activities, we can in many cases find ways to prioritize sustainability.   

“I love cooking but it’s Instagram and social media that sucks up all my time,” laughed Bonneau. “Maybe if others are doing the same thing, they can spend less time on social media and more time cooking.”

Bonneau’s dream is to one day move back to Ontario and buy her own house with a cold cellar, to prevent more food waste.


Zero-waste Yogurt

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup whole yogurt with live cultures

Directions

  1. Pour milk into a heavy pot.
  2. Slowly heat milk to 180 degrees over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to avoid scalding it.
  3. Wait for milk to cool to 110 degrees.
  4. Stir yogurt into milk.
  5. Cover the pot with a lid or transfer liquid to a shallow, covered dish. Put in a warm place overnight.
  6. In the morning, transfer yogurt to a glass jar and refrigerate.
  7. To make Greek yogurt, strain yogurt in a coffee filter cone or sieve lined with cheesecloth or other thin fabric, and place over a container to collect the whey. Set aside for an hour or more, until yogurt has reached your desired consistency.

Yields approximately 3 1/2 cups

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