A shift in mindset is one of the easiest ways to reduce food waste on a personal level. If you realize you can pickle watermelon rinds, that watermelon you just bought suddenly looks twice as valuable. Once you learn you can eat beet greens or radish tops, the $5 you just spent on them stretches twice as far. FoodPrint has a wealth of resources that can help open your eyes to the parts of vegetables that normally go unused, including corn husks, radish greens, and scallion and leek leftovers.
Weighing Mealkit Convenience
Mealkit companies have claimed to reduce waste by providing home chefs with the exact amount of each ingredient needed for a recipe. Their ease of use makes them very tempting for the solo chef. But how eco-conscious are they really? Often, where there’s less food waste there’s still packaging waste, since all those bits of prepped vegetables, spices, sauces and proteins need boxes and wrapping. “Our wrappers, containers and inserts can all be recycled,” explains Maris Callahan, head of PR for the mealkit company Home Chef. “Even our small plastic bottles or jars can be repurposed, for example, for carrying salad dressing to work.” She pointed to a recent study showing that meals cooked from meal kits have a lower carbon footprint than comparable meals from grocery stores.
But even if you no longer have to worry about packaging, you’ll probably still come up against the numbers problem. Mealkits are geared towards couples or families, Callahan acknowledges, simply because it’s easier to deliver ingredients in larger amounts: “If we were to ship half a head of lettuce, it wouldn’t stay fresh.” For those who cook alone and want to try out mealkits, her advice is to order a mealkit for two, saving half the recipe for tomorrow’s lunch. In general, though, if you’re partial to mealkits for their convenience and concerned about the level of waste they generate, do your research and be vocal. More mealkit companies are beginning to react to customer desire for sustainability; it’s up to you to decide whether their standards meet your own.
Cookbooks that Remove the Stigma of Cooking for One
It’s one thing to cook for one if you’re used to buying spontaneously and cooking without recipes, but quite another if you treasure your cookbooks as a valuable roadmap for your every meal. That’s because most cookbooks offer recipes that are built for four to eight servings, so if you want to cook for one, you’ll need to do some serious math…or figure out what to do with a lot of leftovers. Books have cropped up in the past addressing the solo chef’s conundrum, most notably “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant,” an anthology titled after a quote from beloved food writer Laurie Colwin. (“Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone.”) More recently is Anita Lo’s cookbook “Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One.”
The Michelin-starred chef found she was often cooking for herself, whether she was single or had a partner whose schedule didn’t match hers. Although Lo had been a professional chef for years, the extent to which supermarkets were geared towards cooking in bulk – not for singles – shocked her. “Most grocery stores have this — I’d like to call it a hegemony,” she said. “It’s kind of oppressive: everything is packaged for a family of four.”
Part of the impetus behind her book was to help readers realize just how easy recycling food scraps could be. Many recipes in “Solo” direct the reader to another recipe that will help them use up their leftovers. Sometimes, Lo has made clear, using up every scrap can be a creative and profoundly mindful endeavor, rather than a drag.
Speaking Up for the Solo Cook
Still, it’s important to realize that the only way supermarkets — or mealkit companies or cookbook writers — will start catering towards eco-conscious solo cooks is if those cooks become more vocal. Talk to your local supermarket managers about things like loose (unpackaged) produce or nuts, grains and spices sold by weight. It may happen slowly, but Lo acknowledges these are all crucial steps in removing the stigma of cooking and eating alone: “There is so much taboo around being alone,” says Lo, “and I try to make fun of that in the book. Everyone spends time by themselves, everyone needs to spend time by themselves, and I think we should celebrate the times we get to spend alone.”
Recipe: Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast with Roasted Broccoli Panzanella
Anita Lo, “Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One”
This recipe is a great way to use up old bread. Day old, week old, two weeks old — as long as it isn’t moldy, it will work. The lemon and olive oil soaks into the dry bread to make it soft and delicious again. And paired with the chicken breast, you have a balanced meal that covers all four food groups.
1 small head broccoli, florets cut off, stems saved for another use
7 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 chicken breast, skin on
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 small clove garlic, pasted
Pinch red pepper flakes
3 large leaves basil
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 1/2 cups loose cubed stale French bread
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Mix broccoli with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
In the meantime, heat a sauté pan (preferably ovenproof) on high. Pat the chicken dry using a clean paper towel, then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and, when smoking, add the chicken, skin side down. Leave on the heat for 30 seconds, then place the sauté pan with the chicken in the oven with the broccoli. (If you don’t have an ovenproof pan, just place the chicken in a separate roasting dish.)
Bake 5–6 minutes or until skin is browned, bubbly, and crisp, then turn. Turn the broccoli at this point as well. Bake another 6 minutes, until just cooked through. Remove both the broccoli and the chicken and set aside on a warm plate. The broccoli should be browned in places. Cut into bite-size pieces.
In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice and anchovy paste with the garlic and whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the red pepper flakes, basil, and red onions, then the bread cubes and broccoli, and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve with grated Parmesan over the top alongside the chicken.
Excerpted from Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One by Anita Lo. Copyright © 2018 by Anita Lo. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.