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When I attended Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in London, we had a bowl to hold our discarded bits and pieces. Each day the instructor would go through it and tell us how we could use what we had thrown out. It was the beginning of my sustainability training in the kitchen.

A century ago, home cooks did not have access to imported goods. Everything was seasonal and they learned to preserve, pickle and salt food to maintain their supply. People cooked and ate sustainably until the 1950s, when postwar life brought more freedom. Freezers, fast food and TV dinners came into fashion, all a blow to sustainability.

Today, we are once again trying to cook and eat sustainably, to prevent the slow disintegration of our planet. Food history repeats itself.

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My system of sustainability means buying locally and seasonally, using fair-trade products when I can and not buying processed foods. I try to buy from farms that treat their animals with respect and feed them a natural diet, i.e., grass-fed beef, and organic chickens that run around pecking at the ground. I try not to waste food.

Here are some tips on how to maintain a sustainable kitchen:

  • Plan what you need for the week. Overbuying leads to waste.
  • Ugly is okay – it tastes the same. Too much food, around 40 per cent, finds its way into landfills, in part because people discard ugly or browning produce and the tops and tails of veggies. Save veggie scraps in a big freezer bag until you have enough to make a vegetable stock. The tops of turnips, carrots and beets make excellent pesto. They also can be added to salads, or sautéed together to make a side dish. Potato skins taste terrific when baked and filled with something you love. Don’t peel organic vegetables, scrub them instead.
  • Don’t toss out Parmesan rinds, freeze them and then add to soups, sauces and stews for extra flavour.
  • Consider shopping at farmers’ markets. Seasonal food is more nutritious and organic means no spraying. Not all farmers’ markets are organic, but non-organic grown near you is better than produce shipped in a truck from elsewhere.
  • Look at leftovers as a blessing and transform them into a different dish. I recently took leftover sausage, hamburger, eggplant and goat cheese, and mixed them with tomato sauce, chilies and lots of raw spinach. Served over whole-wheat pasta, it bore no resemblance to the eggplant casserole from one night and the leftover hamburger from another.
  • Likewise, stale bread can be repurposed into croutons, breadcrumbs, bread pudding or used in a hearty ribollita soup.
  • Make sure your food is sealed in glass, airtight containers. It will keep longer and help you dispense with plastic. It makes for less waste.
  • Compost what you can. Use it in your garden or on your balcony for planting.
  • Use dishcloths that you launder instead of wipes and disposable cloths.

It is not hard to do a better job on sustainability and the relief we give to our bodies and the planet is worth it.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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