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Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Joy of Zero-Waste Cooking

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But even cookbooks that don’t focus entirely on no-waste cooking seem to be pushing its principles forward, with more recipes for using the entirety of fruits and vegetables — corn cobs, apple cores, spent lemons — and more detailed instructions for storing, reheating and reimagining leftovers. I enjoy the practicality and realism of these cookbooks, which tend to acknowledge the messier ways that food shopping and cooking work in real life.

The most well-known archetype of no-waste American food writing is M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook A Wolf,” published in 1942 during wartime food shortages. Though after the war, when the country was no longer using ration cards and relying on stamps and tokens, Fisher rewrote the introduction and admitted she already found something about the book quaint. It’s found new life over and over again since, including in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

“How to Cook a Wolf,” by M.F.K. Fisher, was first published amid the food scarcity of wartime in 1942.

While Ms. Adler has her own style of writing, there’s something about her confidence as both cook and writer that is reminiscent of M.F.K. Fisher, whom she has cited before as an influence. Chapters are even named in Fisher’s style: “How to Grow Old” or “How to Stand on Your Feet.”

The one I couldn’t wait to tell my father about was “How to Give Thanks,” which offers clever little recipes that start with almost-empty jars of things. Add lime juice and a sprinkle of sugar to fish sauce to make a quick dressing for a rice bowl or salad, Adler suggests. She also provides a more thorough recipe for the last of the cashew butter, or any nut butter, turning it into a noodle dish with carrots, cucumbers and herbs. (Technically, you don’t have to wait for an almost-empty jar to make this.)

It might seem a bit odd to delight in the creativity of frugal cooking, because not wasting food, and passing down that value, often comes from a place of struggle — wartime, poverty, trauma and food scarcity, environmental anxiety and other necessities. But trying to waste as little as possible is a creative act, undervalued only because it happens in the realm of the home kitchen.

No-waste cooking is just another way of maximizing the pleasures of your food, of making the most out of the least. It’s not a trend — it’s what cooking is, most of the time, without requiring any kind of special name.

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