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10 best sustainable cookbooks to help you reduce your food waste

Experiment with new flavours, recipes and ingredients that are good for the planet too

Jessica Carter
Thursday 06 May 2021 17:06
<p>Each serves up insightful knowledge and practical tips</p>

Each serves up insightful knowledge and practical tips

The impact that food production has on the planet is well-documented, with a recent study finding that our food systems are responsible for more than a third (34 per cent ) of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions

While the onus is primarily on large corporations and governments to help drive down this hefty carbon footprint, there are ways that we, as home cooks, can pull our weight too, tweaking the way we shop and cook.

It’s easier said than done, though. There isn’t one single formula for a sustainable diet and opinions vary hugely on what’s best for nature when it comes to what we eat. Should we cut out animal products entirely? Do we need to stick to solely organic produce? What about prioritising locality and avoiding single-use packaging? It’s unrealistic to tick all the boxes on every trip to the shops.

Happily, these books are all designed to simplify the idea of a sustainable diet, using understandable logic to serve up insightful knowledge, practical tips and colourful inspiration for going green in the kitchen.

We’ve chosen them for their clarity, actionable ideas and, of course, great recipes and engaging writing. Some are focused on one specific sustainability principle – like eliminating waste or shifting towards more plant-based eating – while others promise more general ways we can tweak our cooking habits to give Mother Earth something to smile about.

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You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘One Pot, Pan, Planet’, by Anna Jones, published by Fourth Estate

Best: Overall

This inspiring and thoughtful recipe collection is gentle in its meat-free stance – it’s not billed as a vegetarian cookbook at all. The focus is on flavour, sustainability and affordability as opposed to vegetarianism. Meat and fish just happen to not be needed, thanks very much. The recipes have been designed for modern (read: time-poor, curious and often rut-inhabiting) home cooks, meaning they avoid fuss and complexity and embrace speed and ease. Most can be cooked in one pot, pan or tray and with a modest investment of time. That said, there are some slightly more involved, fancier dishes peppered throughout too, for when you’re not against the clock or you want to impress your pals. There are pages filled with short and concise ideas for using up budget-friendly but commonly wasted vegetables as well – from potatoes to cauli and squash. By looking at the gorgeous photography, you’d never guess these dishes were so low maintenance – and your dinner guests won’t, either.

‘Eating for Pleasure, People and Planet’, by Tom Hunt, published by Kyle Books

Known as an eco-chef as well as food writer and campaigner, Tom Hunt is a real authority in the world of sustainable cooking. Poco, the Bristol restaurant he co-owns, has been a regular winner at the Soil Association’s awards over the years, thanks to its solid ethics and green credentials.

This book covers not only how to cook with the environment in mind but also how to choose ingredients and where to look for them. It gives us thought-provoking insight into our country’s food system while avoiding jargon and soap-box speeches. 

Tom’s food is fun, nutritious and focused on enjoyment – because what’s the point of hunching over the stove to cook something that’s good for the planet but a drag to eat? Clever diagrams help you learn the building blocks of meals like soups, pancakes and bowl food, so you can get creative with whatever you have lying around. Meanwhile, the likes of whole roasted merguez-spiced cauli and gnocchi with squash, crispy leeks and walnuts make for great show-off dishes to cook for friends.

‘Zaika’ by Romy Gill, published by Seven Dials

One of the biggest ways we can make our kitchens more sustainable is to lay off the animal products in favour of plants. Sounds simple – so why do so many of us struggle to cook vegan meals on the regular? A lack of vegetable-based inspiration and habitual reliance on dairy and meat are just two of the copious answers there.

Zaika can help on both fronts. Although not billed as a book about sustainable eating, it’s one by default, thanks to the complete absence of meat and dairy and focus on underloved, affordable and sustainable ingredients like lentils and chickpeas.

Author Romy Gill grew up in West Bengal, with meat and dairy reserved only for special occasions. She roots her recipes in her Indian heritage but gently modifies them for contemporary British kitchens and palates. From chana dal and koftas to momos and khichdi (a golden rice and lentil dish), this book is throbbing with inspiration for novel vegan feasts without any virtuous references to absentee ingredients.

‘Eat Green’ by Melissa Hemsley, published by Ebury Press

Designed to benefit our wallets and busy schedules as much as our eco credentials, Eat Green has a relaxed, flexible approach. While vegetables are put front and centre, meat is in attendance too (although accompanied by easy vegetarian swaps), and readers are encouraged to forage in their cupboards to substitute or add whatever they have that needs using up. 

Having researched what foods are most often left to wilt in the back of the fridge, Melissa includes suggestions for incorporating those half-bags of herbs and salad leaves into different dishes, as well as tips for using up leftovers.

From breakfasts like baked eggs with Indian lentils and fridge-raid frittata to time-saving one-pots like broccoli and pesto pasta and party food like root veg fritters with herb chutney and yoghurt, these everyday dishes are colourful and varied, and are great bases from which to leap off into the world of recipe adaptation.

‘30 Easy Ways to Join the Food Revolution’ by Ollie Hunter, published by Pavilion Books

After appearing on MasterChef in 2013, Ollie Hunter went on to take over Wilshire pub The Wheatsheaf. Under his leadership, it was named Business of the Year at the 2019 Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Food Made Good Awards, thanks to its focus on minimising its environmental impact. 

This book followed in 2020. Its pages, lined with colour and illustration, present Ollie’s thoughts and advice on sustainable cooking in a fun, approachable way. All based on the principles of creating zero waste, following the seasons and using local ingredients, recipes include the likes of beetroot mayonnaise, broad bean falafel, and nettle and spelt risotto. They’re infused with helpful ideas for sustainable swaps, context on the meat-eating debate and tips on attainable changes you can make to your grocery shopping to reduce that carbon footprint.

With its bold and jolly design, this is a great book to help engage younger cooks, but is pitched well for all ages and abilities.

‘The Zero Waste Cookbook’ by Giovanna Torrico and Amelia Wasiliev, published by Hardie Grant

We’ve all experienced the specific flavour of guilt that comes with emptying packets of food straight into the kitchen bin, the dates on their use-by labels long consigned to history. This book is all about ways to help us limit these instances so that we can shop and cook more efficiently, save money and cut down on the amount of packaging that passes through our kitchens. And seeing that we, as domestic shoppers and consumers, are accountable for around half of the world’s food waste, it seems we have room for improvement.

Tactics covered here include meal planning, storing food smartly (including freezing things like leftover wine for sauces and grated ginger for curries), preserving and turning leftovers into new meals. That’s as well as reclaiming oft-binned trimmings to create dishes like leek scrap omelette, focaccia with tomato skin, apple core and strawberry top jam, and homemade yoghurt using the scrapings from your last pot.

‘Eat to Save the Planet’ by Annie Bell, published by One Boat

Based on The Planetary Health Diet – a way of eating designed around the most widely respected study of food and production, The EAT-Lancet Commission – this book attempts to cut through the eco-noise with science. Long-time food writer Annie Bell offers up the latest knowledge on questions like how much of each food group we should be eating a day and how, exactly, our food production systems affect the planet.

The recipes are all based on these principles and range from a super-flexible vegetable soup to use up odds and ends to super-quick Thai chicken and edamame bean curry and a versatile slow-roasted tomato sauce. In the back, there’s a four-week meal plan too, to help you combine recipes in a balanced and conscientious way.

While the ideas might seem radical, the recipes are still familiar and approachable. There are no images here though, so perhaps one for more confident cooks who don’t need visual cues.

‘Fermentation: River Cottage Handbook No. 18’ by Rachel de Thample, published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Fermentation is one of the earliest techniques that humans came up with for preserving food, but modern conveniences such as fridges, freezers and preservatives saw it disappear from domestic kitchens. Happily, this ancient culinary technique is back in vogue – and our kitchens (and bodies) are all the better for it.

Fermenting is a great way to extend the life of fruit and veg, helping us to eat locally and shop seasonally, as well as reduce the number of times we need to empty that compost caddy each month.

The recipes here are aimed at home cooks – as opposed to based on fancy restaurant-style ferments – and are designed to demystify the process so we can assimilate it into our kitchen routines. Sure, some recipes are a bit more outside-of-the-box than others – the sea shanty fennel for instance, which uses seawater and seaweed – but if this book encourages us to forage for wild ingredients as well as get fermenting, it’s helping our sustainability efforts even more.

‘Goat’ by James Whetlor, published by Quadrille

It’s no secret that meat production is one of the biggest environmental issues of our food landscape. But there are some solid arguments to be made for not cutting it out entirely – so long as it’s well-reared with the welfare of both the animal and the earth in mind. And when it comes to goat meat, the argument is further bolstered. See, male goats are viewed by the dairy industry as little more than a waste product; as they can’t produce milk, thousands are euthanised at birth each year in the UK.

Since 2012, James Wheltor, a former River Cottage chef, has set about trying to fix this ethically unsound practice by rearing these male goats for their meat – which happens to not only be delicious but nutritiously dense and sustainable.

From ragus to casseroles, dumplings to barbecued joints, goat meat’s versatility is showcased in these imaginative and thoughtful recipes, which would be just as at home on the domestic dining table as on a restaurant’s pass.

'Too Good to Waste’ by Victoria Glass, published by Nourish

‘”Waste not want not” is an old saying whose sentiment we might well agree with, yet still find the directive an increasingly tricky one to live by. Well, Too Good To Waste is Victoria Glass’ explanation of how we can put this adage into practice while simultaneously living modern, busy lives. 

The likes of bean pods, wilting lettuce, sprouting potatoes and discarded egg whites are given new life with practical and unfussy recipes. In the back of the book is a comprehensive ingredient index that’ll come in all kinds of handy when you’re looking for ways to use up niche leftovers, like meat bones, fish scraps and almost-on-the-turn milk.

The colourful images show plates and bowls bursting with interesting textures and colours, like pumpkin and maple cheesecake, herb and hazelnut-crusted chicken, and nasi goreng made with leftover rice. Arranged into sections on making the most of whole veg and fruit, repurposing leftovers and giving scraps a new lease of life, this book will see the compost heap swerved on the regular.

The verdict: Sustainable cookbooks

For a deeper understanding of the way our food systems work and an introduction to greener ingredients, Eating for Pleasure, People and Planet would be a good bet, while Too Good to Waste will help you to see leftovers and scraps in a new light – fit for a feast as opposed to only the bin.

For a modern and carefully considered approach to ethical eating,One Pot, Pan, Planet is a sound choice. There are no unattainable tall orders here, just approachable recipes and gentle updates to our kitchen routines that have the potential to sprout solid eco benefits. Not only doable, but Anna’s ideas are also tempting and are likely to get you fired up to don that apron. 

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For more books to lose yourself in, read our round-up of the 9 best romance books that are too brilliant to put down

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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