If you’re interested in plant-based eating and sustainable cooking habits, the chances are you’ve heard of Max La Manna. Inspired by his own life experience, Max creates simple, affordable dishes that use as much of each ingredient as possible and his viral, easy-to-follow recipe videos have racked up millions of views across his various social media platforms.
We caught up with him ahead of his appearance at the Sustainability Show this Sunday in Manchester to find out more about his approach to food…
How did you first get into cooking and the idea of food sustainability?
I love food and I love cooking for others. I started working in food when I was 16 as a dough boy in a pizza restaurant and over the next 15 years I worked in various locations and at various restaurants around the world – from Los Angeles to New York and even in Sydney at one point.
I’ve washed dishes and managed cafes, so I’ve done every job in a restaurant, and cooking has been the most enjoyable part thus far.
About six years ago I started creating videos on Instagram around food waste and highlighting the issues around this topic. I’d like to think I’ve always been conscious of sustainability practices but practicing it is a whole other story to simply being aware of it. So for me, while I like to think I’ve always prioritised a sustainable approach, in truth it’s probably not always been the case.
Tell us about your journey to a plant-based diet
I haven’t been vegan forever. A lot of people think I have but in fact, I’ve been vegan twice. I think it’s important to highlight that – it’s a process and a journey.
The first time I went vegan was back in 2012 for a few months. It was a conscious decision to go down this path because I have men in my life who were overweight and obese. My grandfather passed away when he was 34 because of high cholesterol and he was overweight because of his lifestyle and the food he was eating.
I didn’t want to be another statistic and wanted to be conscious of the food that I was putting into my body. For me, eating a whole plant-based diet was the choice I wanted to make. I also find that cooking with plants can be a little bit of a challenge at first, and I enjoyed that challenge so now I’m championing plant-based cooking.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with and why?
Oh, this is actually a tough one. My favourite ingredient to cook with is probably broccoli. And I say that because there’s a few different things you could do with it. I mean, you can steam it, you can grate it with a box grater and fry it, you can put it in a food processor and make rice out of it. I mean, there are so many things you could do with it.
It shows you can be really creative with an ingredient that is seen as boring and for me, that’s fun. I like to have a little bit of a challenge because it forces me to be more creative.
Why is the idea of food sustainability important to you?
The idea is important because we are wasting food every single second of every single day. Around the world, 1.3 billion tons of food will go to waste this year or will be lost. And we’re currently in a situation where there are millions of people around the world who are not able to provide food for their family and their loved ones. But we are wasting tons of food.
There’s a disconnect here and that really is baffling. We work a job that we like or we don’t like to earn money to then go and spend it on food that we then waste – it doesn’t make sense to me. I believe it’s important to know where food comes from and find ways of cooking so that it doesn’t go to waste.
What advice do you have for people who want to be more sustainable in their kitchen?
The really important thing is to cook the food you already have. And also, make a list of the food you want to buy before going to the shops. This is important in the UK because we are over-buying food which is why we end up throwing away a lot of it.
If we cook the food we already have and shop smarter by making a list, this will reduce the impact drastically.
Use your freezer too. Almost every ingredient you could bring home could potentially be placed in the freezer to extend its shelf life. You could freeze bread, onions, broccoli and even lemons! With lemons, I’d suggest blending them in food processors and pouring the liquid into an ice-cube tray. You can then have lemon cubes for a cocktail or drink during the summer!
Get creative with your food, use your freezer, make a list when you go shopping and cook the food you already have.
Max La Manna is hosting a free cooking demonstration at the Sustainability Show in Manchester on the 9th July, where he’ll be talking through his plant-based recipes and sharing tips and tricks to inspire you to cook more, eat more plants and view food in a whole new light. Grab your free ticket here.