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Waste not, want not

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

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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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1 person likes this
Posted by Christina
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2015 at 7:08 am

This is so great. I'm so glad to see people doing this and teaching it!

1 person likes this
Posted by 50s child
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 15, 2015 at 7:52 am

I remember plastic coming into everyday use and it was mixed blessings.

We used glass milk bottles, put the empties out for the milkman every day. Fruits and vegetables were weighed and put into our own string bags to carry home. Meat and fish were weighed and put into butchers' paper and sometimes double wrapped with newspaper as the outer layer. Packages were wrapped with brown paper and string, no tape ever used. Dishes were washed with block soap - and we were too. Shampoo came in glass bottles and shattered if you dropped them in the bathroom, I remember my Dad having to come and lift me out of the bath tub when shampoo bottle shattered on the side of the tub with shards going into the bath and all over the floor. All our cups, plates were porcelain and most had chips and broken handles. Cheese tasted like cheese and was cut from huge cheeses to order and wrapped in paper to take home. If we didn't eat it within a couple of days even in the fridge it went hard and green, but it tasted so good it was rarely left that long.

We burned most of our old paper wrappers in the fireplace including used sanitary products. Diapers were washed at home and double rinsed after soaking for a couple of days in buckets. Handkerchiefs, particularly when we had colds, were boiled in salt on the stove before being washed to get rid of the mucus.

Hard candy, tea, coffee, powdered goods, all came in tin cans. Some had to be opened with "keys" stuck on the bottom to wind off the tops. Some of these were so attractive we kept them for leftover baked goods. Our garage shelves also had these cans for screws, drill bits, and other odds and ends.

We would take a paper bag when we went swimming to put our wet things in, usually they would break and disintegrate before we got home. Some paper bags had advertising, but others were different colors and we could identify the store by the design on the bags. We used the bags to cover school books or wrap gifts.

Each week our trash can would have at least one broken glass container or broken plate. We reused nearly all containers.

Some memories are good, some were not so good.

1 person likes this
Posted by Trish Waldon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jun 15, 2015 at 11:15 am

Thank you for this article. I know Anne Marie from living in the same apartment community and she really walks her talk and is very inspiring. It would be nice to do a follow up article in a year to see her further explorations in zero waste and living lightly on the earth.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chamali
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2015 at 6:37 pm

I met Anne-Marie because she so kindly offers webinars on how to live a zero-waste life. In two different webinars, I learned how to make a ginger bug and delicious naturally carbonated drinks, as well as how to make a sourdough starter from just flour and water. It's brilliant that her wonderful zero waste message from Mountain View can reach me in Melbourne, Australia. Many thanks for your generosity, Anne-Marie.

1 person likes this
Posted by Rolland Bonneau
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Anne-Marie takes after her Grand Mother Bonneau.."SHE MAKES THINGS WITH HER
HANDS"..Another of her accomplishments is that she created very unique costume jewelry (at one time, using my tools from my workshop) She sold some
of her creations in many parts of Ontario, Canada..She has that "in-bread talent" not found in too many people nowadays..
It goes without saying that I am very proud of her, being her octogenarian father.
Bonne chance Anne Marie, je t'aimes beaucoup
Ton PAPA de Toronto

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