Hello again! If you haven’t been following along in this zero waste inspiration series, we’ve been talking to inspiring people who are making zero waste work for their daily lives in so many different ways. Last week we talked to Stevie Van Horn- read her interview here.
Today, I’m really excited to share with you Max La Manna, a zero waste and vegan chef. You may know him from his drool worthy instagram @eatingwithmax where he posts about vegan food, wellness, zero waste and more. Max is located in NYC and you can also find him + his recipes on his blog Eating With Max. I’m so happy to be able to interview him because not only is he super inspiring, but I find men to be underrepresented in both the vegan and zero waste communities. I hope you also find this helpful! If you have someone in particular in mind you’d like to nominate for an interview, please let me know in the comments or on my instagram @mamaeatsplants .
Walk us through a typical day for you- what do you get up to on the regular?
My days vary day to day, so whatever I feel like doing and is aligned with me in the moment is what I’ll get into. Normally, I have my morning routine that consists of a cold shower, yoga and meditation, positive affirmations, drinking a lot of water and conscious breathing. My favorite part of my day is when I wake up and moments before I go to bed – these are moments are so crucial and find them to be the moments where you set yourself up for success. Throughout the day, I am reading, researching, creating food and immersing myself in some creative action.
What inspired you to go zero waste and what continues to inspire you to stick to it?
Well, I feel as though I’ve practiced zero waste in different aspects of my life since I was a child in small ways. I would look around and see trash everywhere and knew that this is not how I wanted to treat my planet and would pick up trash on the streets, and at the beach – I guess, the inspiration came from my good friend, Lauren Singer when we met late last year. Sometimes it only takes one person and you see something or feel something and in that moment I changed. What inspires me? Life! I’m going to live a long, healthy and happy life and if I am able to create less waste in doing so then I’ve done my part and hopefully, someone meets me and they change in that moment too and it continues…
How easy is it for you to live zero waste in NYC? Any specific challenges for this area?
Each day meets new challenges when I am traveling about this makes it fun, so I consisting have to check in and ask myself “where’s my container’s, where’s my reusable bags, do I have my mason jar?”. Anything new or a transition into a new lifestyle is going to bring new challenges, and being present and mindful in those moments is what allows me to continue to live a zero waste lifestyle. Taking in each moment which allows me to be present as well. The other day I was with Stevie and we forgot our containers, and had leftover food – we ended up having to take the food with us wrapped in a napkin. The weird looks from the wait staff did not deter us from continuing to do what was right because we knew they weren’t going to compost our food leftovers.
Where do you shop locally for your zero waste food and household needs?
Go local! The farmers markets is where I go for my produce and food co-ops for other staples. I’m currently getting into making household cleaners with the use of citrus peels. I’d like to get into making shampoos and other hygiene products from scratch. The beautiful thing about being zero-waste is that you get to be creative and when you do your research you commit to it and you surprise yourself every time.
If you live with a roommate, do they share your zero waste values? If not, do you find this to be challenging?
Oh, the roommates! No, they don’t practice zero waste or a vegan diet like myself, but I have seen changes in one of my roommates, which is amazing. Like I said, it takes one person. The other day I looked inside their garbage pin and saw plastic and other recyclable items and that made me mad, so I went out and bought a separate bin for them to separate their recycling and this has made an impact in our household. Small changes, big impact!
You work as a chef- my husband manages a restaurant and waste is a HUGE issue in the food + hospitality industry, I believe. What ways have you modified your cooking when you made the switch to zero waste?
Growing up in my father’s kitchen and even in the restaurants I’ve worked in, I saw a lot of food waste and it made me upset that food was being thrown away and was still perfectly good for consumption or for other practices like composting. When I started practicing zero waste, my cooking style had to change immediately. I strongly feel that a vegan diet compliments this zero waste lifestyle completely. I started off buying ingredients in glass jars, so then I can reuse the glass jars and refill my ingredients. Then, I started shopping for ingredients that had no packaging – bringing cloth bags and those jars to the store with me to collect dry goods and spices in bulk and bringing my eco bag to carry my groceries home with me. This has made all the difference in my cooking! I feel clean, pure and I know exactly what is going into my body.
Vegan chefs are a minority in fine dining- I hear a lot of negative comments about how cooking without animal products severely limits a chef in terms of possibilities, flavors, and cultural/traditional foods. Have you received such comments/negativity from peers in your industry and what is your view on vegan culinary “limitations”?
Of course, and then I welcome these people to try my food. My closest friends are not vegan and when they come over to eat, they are blown away by the flavor, texture, the colors that are incorporated- I guess I’m boasting a bit and puffing my chest, but seriously I have not been upset or limited with my cooking with lack of flavor or possibilities. Think of this for a second, what are you seasoning that steak or chicken with? VEGAN ingredients- like herbs and vegetables, so what am I really lacking? (note: this is SO true, in my experience the flavors we crave are actually a result of the seasonings, spices, cooking techniques and sauces that we put on it- is plain no salt meat palatable? No, its the way we cook it and the flavors we add that make it good. Case in point- buffalo wings- its all about the SAUCE, and when made with cauliflower they taste just as good if not better and you can feel GOOD after eating a whole bowl instead of too full/sick).
pictured: Max’s almond cheese rainbow pizza, recipe can be found HERE.
So many women message me saying they have a really hard time trying to introduce plant based food into their male partner’s lives and I’ve noticed that veganism and masculinity have this weird stigma in our culture. Did you have any hangups about this before you went vegan? Do you have any tips on how to help men lean more towards veganism/plant based food?
The moment the idea about veganism entered my mind I changed the way I ate immediately. I think people get hung over with the name “diet” because we are constantly introduced a new trend, a new way to lose weight, a new this or new that – I think you need to do what feels right to you and your body and forget what others have to say. At the end of the day, who is going to take care of you? I’ve always been the person who thought outside the box or when everyone went one way, I went the other. I educated myself and read countless articles of veganism and then did my research on what to eat as a vegan. Over the years, I started to realize how good I felt and how much energy I have on a day-to-day basis – far more energy than I did when I was eating meat. For the men, who are out there who are considering or are just turned off from the idea – ask yourself – is my health important to me? Is the environment important to me? Is an animals life important to me? If you answer, yes to at least one of these then you need to take a good long look at yourself and accept that there is an awakening- change! Welcome the change with open arms. The strongest animals on this planet are herbivores – think about that for just a second.
Continuing on this masculinity stigma, have you experienced negative reactions from male friends, coworkers, etc upon going zero waste? If so, how have you dealt with that?
I definitely hear it from others – male and female. What’s funny to me now is that those people are now practicing zero waste in small ways and practice going vegan a couple times during the week, so I guess it’s working. The first time I brought my compost to the farmer’s market I felt like I made such a difference – the feeling was so palpable and the rest of my day I was flying on a cloud. Knowing that you are making small changes creates bigger impacts down the road.
Composting is an essential part of zero waste and everyone does it a little differently. How do you compost in the city?
Well, I am fortunate to have a compost bin in the front of my apartment, so I can easily go outside and toss my food scraps into the compost bin anytime. I typically will go the farmer’s market with my compost one week and then next I will use NYC’s compost. So, during the week I keep my compost in my freezer and sometimes I’ll take photos of the food scraps as it reminds me that food is art and no matter how you look at it – food can serves multiple purposes.
What is your biggest kind/source of trash still?
Napkins! Every time I go out to eat I always reach for that napkin – I’m getting better at it – this is a process and a change that is new for a lot of us, so we must be kind to ourselves.
You cook so many amazing delicious recipes, all from scratch. What’s your view on home cooking and how do you make time for it, even as a busy person?
Wow, thank you so much! There is nothing better than a home cooked meal in my opinion. I choose a home cooked meal any time! I do take my time and it shows in my cooking- I believe, and I feel that you can taste that in every bite as well. Truly, I make the time to cook at home – I hear from others that they don’t have time and you can’t make that excuse anymore – If it’s important to you then you’ll make the change. It’s about commitment and allowing yourself to research and create a recipe. I love what I do! I’m constantly receiving messages from people and they hire me to create recipes for the weekly. This is the fun part of it all, and of course, eating the food too!
Do you have a zero waste kit for when you’re out and about? If so, what’s in it and what do you carry it in?
Absolutely, I think you have to! When I do go out I carry my backpack with me or my eco bag. I will always bring my stainless steel container and mason jar with me as well. These are simple fixes and you may not get it right on the first couple times you go out, but after awhile you become pro and if you’re actively making a change then you’re stepping in the right direction.