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Max La Manna Is Turning Millions Into Planet-Conscious Cooks

Sustainable cooking is more accessible than ever. Chef Max La Manna talks low-waste recipes, plant-based cooking, and more.

Written by
Angelica Pizza

A common myth about sustainable living is that it's inaccessible. Many people often think living a more eco-friendly lifestyle comes with higher price tags—especially for vegan food options. And while there's some truth to the misconception, plant-based cooking and plant-forward eating are becoming more and more accessible.

Our research shows that incorporating more plant-based foods and making sustainable swaps are effective ways to decrease individual environmental footprints. Some studies even say that making sustainable swaps in the kitchen can reduce your carbon footprint by about 48%.

Fortunately, we’re seeing major innovations in the sustainability space that help reduce carbon emissions and reduce food waste—both of which are contributors to global warming and climate change.

In this week's episode of Good Together, Brightly's founder and CEO Laura Wittig chats with Max La Manna, a low-waste, sustainable chef and award-winning author. He’s popping off on social media, with popular Instagram and TikTok accounts that feature low-waste, plant-based recipes for viewers to try at home.

La Manna has made it his mission to make low-waste, plant-based cooking more accessible to his audience. Here's how.

How Chef Max La Manna Brings Sustainability Into the Kitchen

Low-Waste, Upcycled Recipes

La Manna says his career started after being inspired to help others save money and reduce food waste in the kitchen—especially after working in the restaurant business. Seeing food go to waste was like seeing money go to waste, and he didn't want to waste money.

"If you're looking at the food you're buying, you should buy the food you know you're going to cook because if you're not cooking food, then you're probably throwing it away," La Manna says. "And that's just wasted money. But it's not just wasted money... it's wasted transportation, it's wasted packaging. It's wasted labor, wasted electricity."

That's why La Manna encourages his viewers to use what they already have in the kitchen before buying new groceries. He does this with his low-waste recipes, teaching his audience how to cook with food scraps we normally toss in the trash.

"Broccoli stems and banana peels, the aquafaba—the liquid that's found in the chickpea can," La Manna lists. "People are throwing away the peels and the skins to onions and garlic and potatoes."

However, if you scroll through La Manna's social media feeds, you'll find a series of tutorials that help you reduce food waste—and upcycle those scraps you were going to toss. Plus, La Manna's cookbook, More Plants Less Waste, teaches us how to reshape our thinking when it comes to food waste. His recipes keep food out of the trash and save you money.

Plant-Based Cooking

The second component of La Manna's mission is to make plant-based cooking mainstream. He says he's received feedback from people who don't know where to start when it comes to eating vegan. His advice? Look at what you already have in the kitchen, and evaluate what's already plant-based.

"When you're cooking and frying and whatever you're doing, you're probably using some sort of vegan ingredients that go with it," La Manna says. "No one thinks this, but spices—[the] majority of spices—are already plant-based. I know it's such a small thing, but it's kind of like reshaping and informing them to rethink and reassess, 'Oh wait, maybe I already am doing this.' And I think that can lead them down a path of incorporating more plants into their dish."

La Manna also says his recipes are always vegan—but he doesn't see them as different from that of other chefs. In the end, food is food. In his recipes, he often includes which vegan swap he makes, such as using plant-based milk or vegan butter when necessary. And generally, his goal is to offer plant-based cooking in the most approachable way possible.

He also says a lot of common dishes are already plant-based. For example, a lot of Asian and Indian cuisine already incorporates plant-based ingredients. And even still, you can turn your favorite dishes into vegan ones.

"You can have a pizza without the cheese or you can have your plant-based, vegan cheese on top if you'd like," La Manna says. "But a lot of dishes, without us even knowing, are already vegan. Including snacks, too—Oreos have always been vegan."

All in all, plant-based eating isn't as tricky as many people think it is. It's all about reshaping perspective—and trying something new!

The Takeaway

While sustainability in the kitchen isn't always accessible to everyone, we're moving in the right direction. La Manna says he's most excited to see more options on menus and grocery store shelves—meaning plant-based cooking is becoming more attainable.

"I'm seeing my family, my friends, neighbors, people that I know, people that I don't know, people I'm meeting along the way, who are saying, 'This is incredible. Have you tried this?'" he says. "And for me, for somebody who went plant-based over 10 years ago, to now, it's night and day. It's incredible to see the options, and that's what's really exciting and what inspires me. This can continue this way and it'll give people options to try new foods."

La Manna also hopes his recipes and sustainable kitchen tips encourage viewers to try something new.

"Hopefully it inspires you to be creative in the kitchen; hopefully it gets you in the kitchen to start cooking," he says. "Or maybe it inspires you to cook with the food you already have and waste less food. For me, it's all inspiration."

If you're ready to cook with the planet in mind, listen to the full episode, which includes some of La Manna's go-to recipes. You'll be a pro in no time.