This last year, I began my journey toward a zero-waste lifestyle. I say “toward” because going zero waste is not as simple as deciding to suddenly practice yoga or eliminating meat from one’s diet.
The zero-waste journey is intricate and often emotionally challenging, particularly given the number of perspective switches it requires. My burgeoning awareness of the sheer dependency our culture has on single-use plastics and landfills gave me no small amount of anxiety in the beginning—I still battle climate change palpitations.
Zero waste living has fundamentally changed the way I move and breathe on this earth. I can confidently claim that I simply cannot go back to “wasteful” living, and that I will urge many of my fellow beloved humans to do the same.
Naturally, I’ve had ample time to note the nuances of these changes. Yes, I shop for groceries differently than most; my cabinet of cleaning products is beautifully sparse and entirely biodegradable. My zero-waste nerdiness has only amplified.
Yet perhaps the most significant change has been with respect to my diet. Zero waste living does change the way you eat—and, I argue, largely for the better. Here’s how.
I am more vegan than ever before.
I have always followed a plant-based, vegan-inspired diet. (I eat fish because, well, sushi.) This habit began over a decade ago, when I suddenly grew disgusted with the foundation of greasy meat that tends to bolster northwestern prairie diets (yes, I grew up in Montana.)
The moment I began transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle, I became even more dependent on vegan fare. Quite simply, it is easier to follow a waste-free vegan diet than it is to follow a waste-free (and plastic-free) meat-based one.
Have you wandered your local grocery store’s meat aisle lately? Note the Styrofoam. Note the shrink-wrap. Note the squirmy pink flesh and grimace a bit (if you’re me).
Yes, you can purchase meat from your store’s deli and receive it packaged in paper, but often that paper is lined with wasteful wax (preventing composting or recycling). Meat-eaters wanting to eat zero-waste must therefore bring along their own containers.
To be fair, I do this when purchasing fish. My partner is also a carnivore, so we cart a stainless steel lunch box to our local health food store on meat days.
Yet vegan fare is very rarely packaged in Styrofoam, particularly if purchased in bulk. Beans, legumes, grains, and more can all be sourced from bulk sections; vegans also don’t have to worry about plastic-wrapped cheeses or waxed cartons of milk, and they rarely have to bring their own containers to the store outside of the bulk aisle.
It is, quite simply, easier to avoid food packaging when you purchase plant-based ingredients. For this reason, I am heavily vegan these days. (And science says this isn’t a bad thing.)
I consume mainly fruits and vegetables (and hummus).
Because they are plastic-free, automatically zero-waste ingredients, fruits and vegetables have taken up firmer residence in my diet. (I do bring my own produce bags to the grocery store to ensure I don’t bring home any of those flimsy plastic ones.)
Zero-waste living has also opened my eyes to everything that can be composted. Given the fact that food scraps thrown in the trash virtually cannot biodegrade and release copious amounts of methane gas once compressed by layers of plastic in a landfill, composting is the saving grace of any zero-waste kitchen.
And I love composting. Don’t even get me started. The notion of turning food scraps into rich, abundant earth is enough to get me salivating for greens. Yes, the possibility of composting has compelled more vegetable consumption in my household. Who can complain about that?
My food is nearly entirely crafted by hand.
Often I have to revert to DIY recipes to avoid plastic packaging or kitchen waste. I make my own hummus, vegan ricotta, tonics, nut milks, and even tofu.
This, naturally, takes time. But it also ensures brighter, fresher flavors in everything I consume. I spend more time in my kitchen, which has cultivated a natural respect for food and its evolution from earth to stomach. I also take immense pleasure in knowing that what enters my body is 100% free of toxins, pesticides, and artificial ingredients.
When I get to be present at every stage of the food-making process, I swear things taste different. I savor the end result more; my companions can taste the love.
I eat out less.
Eating out can often give the illusion of zero-waste living. You don’t leave behind anything at a restaurant except a signed receipt, yes?
I cringe at the amount of waste restaurants generate, particularly those that don’t compost food waste and use single-use plastic take-out containers and cutlery.
Restaurant dependency promotes wasteful living. I haven’t avoided eating out altogether, but I’m certainly more mindful about my restaurant visits.
I eat to nourish myself and the earth.
This is perhaps the most important result of my zero-waste lifestyle. I experience abundant gratitude when I eat anything these days. I feel purpose in every bite; I feel kindness.
This is because my aim with eating is to nourish myself and the earth. This kind of mindfulness is not to be overlooked. It transforms everyday meals into encounters with the profound. It makes me wildly happy. It puts me at ease.
Zero-waste eating is no small challenge. But I take pride in its complexities. And, I’m eating healthier, moving stronger, and breathing deeper as a result.