Vegan Life meets… Max La Manna
We chat to vegan chef Max La Manna on saving food waste and the planet
It’s fair to say that Max La Manna – low-waste chef, award-winning cookbook author and BBC Earth food show host – has far surpassed merely ‘doing his bit’ for the planet. Here, we talk to the inspirational vegan about how it all got started, and what his plans are for the future.
When did you first start to become aware of the world’s issue with wasting food?
I became aware of it during my time working in a Michelin starred restaurant in New York City. It was such an incredible place to work, but I couldn’t help noticing the amount of food they were throwing away in order to create the ‘perfect’ plate.
I started to research, read books, and watch documentaries, and I realised that our relationship with food waste is a systemic one. The way we value produce, the people who grow it, who harvest it, package it, consume it and then throw it away, is completely off-kilter.
So I decided to make some changes to the way I cooked and prepared the food I ate, sharing my recipes as I went.
What were the first measures you took to try to become more zero-waste?
I should start by saying that it’s impossible to be ‘zero waste’, but I do try and take ownership of the food I create and reduce waste wherever I can.
When it comes to food, I only buy what I need and try and source my produce as locally and seasonally as possible. I’m constantly experimenting to find new uses for the foods we most commonly throw away and I make sure that I compost any food scraps.
I live in London in an area where in order to have a food waste bin, you have to ask your council. Fortunately, I managed to source one for my building, but I’m still constantly hounding my local MP to make this standard for everyone in my borough and hopefully the entire city and country.
How can we help other people in our lives to be more considerate of food waste?
I think we need to look to indigenous communities and older generations. We didn’t used to throw away food, it’s only because modern ways of living have altered our perspective and made things ‘disposable’ that we’ve stopped caring about what it means when we throw something away.
I try to spread my message with a joyful and positive attitude, rather than shaming folks for their individual actions. We all have different levels of privilege and access which is why we need to think more systematically.
On an individual level, I want to show my community that there’s a lot of fun to be had in creating delicious food out of what you already have, prioritising seasonal produce and throwing away as little of it as possible. It’s also a wonderful feeling when we look after ourselves by cooking more and sharing that food with our families and our communities.
What’s the link between veganism and low-waste cooking?
Both are positive and sustainable practices. Plant-based food lends itself well to low-waste cooking because by virtue of eating a predominantly vegetable based diet, you’re already cutting back on emissions via your plate. It’s also much easier to make the most of things like the tops and ends of vegetables, than it is fish bones and chicken livers – at least for me, anyway!
If someone is looking to go plant-based, great. This lifestyle has really suited me over the past four years, and I absolutely love eating in this way. When it comes to those who are meat-lovers, they can also take small steps to have a more flexitarian lifestyle and reduce their meat-intake, without sacrificing any of the texture and taste that they already love.
That’s why I’m working with The Unbelievable ALT., the meat alternative made for meat lovers. They promise no compromise on flavour, so it’s just like the real thing, which helps you cut down your impact on the environment. For example, using The Unbelievable ALT. means you’re emitting 50-80 per cent less CO2 than if you chose meat.
How can people incorporate more zero-waste practices into cooking and eating at home?
Cutting down on meat is a great way to make a positive change. The good thing about The Unbelievable ALT. is that it’s so versatile.
You can check out some of the recipes I’ve made using The Unbelievable ALT. over on my Instagram page, such as the Beefless Lo-Mein recipe, to show some delicious, easy and versatile ways to make those small changes to your daily lifestyle that really make a difference.
We love your book, More Plants Less Waste. Have you got any more cookbooks in the pipeline for this year?
Thanks so much! I have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline which I cannot WAIT to share! I would so love to reveal all right now, but I’m having to practice patience (not one of my virtues unfortunately!)
What are three simple ways to reduce our own food waste?
Only buy what you need – create a list before you go to the shops and stick to that list!
Only cook what you need and make sure you store any leftovers properly so you can enjoy them later.
If you have the time, money and access, try to support your local farmers and their incredible organic and seasonal produce whenever you can.
What are the environmental benefits of following a vegan diet?
Less water intensive, less greenhouse gas emissions, better for the soil, better for the animals, better for local communities.
What one statistic do people need to hear to call them to act to help the planet?
We throw away one third of the food we produce, and that food waste could solve world hunger.
Have you got any more exciting projects planned for 2021?
My focus is on making low-waste plant-based recipes as good as they can be for as many people as possible. I love what I do, and I hope to inspire lots more folks to join me!
Click here, to learn how to cook Max’s No-waste Beefless & Broccoli Stir-fry using The Unbelievable ALT.
Max is working with The Unbelievable ALT., the no compromise meat free alternative for meat lovers that tastes and bites just like real meat. With its versatility and reduced impact on the environment, it is the perfect solution for those wanting to cut down on their meat intake. For more information on The Unbelievable ALT. visit theunbelievablealt.com or @unbelievablealt on Instagram.