Food

Max La Manna: Stopping food waste one banana skin and mushy cereal bowl at a time

About 40 per cent of all food produced is wasted. For Stop Food Waste Day, Max La Manna explains why he is on a mission to help us change our habits

BLT with banana instead of bacon

Will Max’s take on a BLT split opinion? Image: You Can Cook This: Simple, Satisfying, Sustainable Veg Recipes by Max La Manna

Growing up, Max La Manna, like every child, needed encouragement to clear his plate. “My mother would always say make sure you eat your food – there are starving people on the other side of the world.” Now, with a cost-of-living crisis pushing more families into poverty, La Manna knows that hunger is no longer an abstract, distant notion.

“There are millions of children across the country right now who are struggling to get meals,” he says. “It’s happening all around us. It’s happening to people around the corner from us, it’s happening next door. It’s not this faraway place where we don’t see it – out of sight out of mind. It’s happening everywhere.”

A record number of people in the UK are hungry. Even before the current crisis, 4.2 million people were living in food poverty – including nine per cent of all children. In 2022, 320,000 turned to the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks – a 40 per cent increase on the previous year.

But the problem is not a shortage of food. Aside from periodical problems sourcing tomatoes, there is no reason for people in the UK not to have enough to eat. Especially given the fact that around 40 per cent of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. So Max La Manna is on a mission. None of us can singlehandedly solve the food poverty problem, but we can all help with surprising solutions, which involve frying banana skins and salvaging soggy cereal.

Max La Manna was born in the US, but has established himself in the UK as a self-taught, low-food-waste chef and influencer, with over one million followers. He’s had more than one billion views of his recipes, which use ingredients you’re likely to already have and others you could probably retrieve from your bin right now.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help The Big Issue help more people by signing up for a subscription

“I’m trying to get people to cook the food they already have,” he says. “I asked my audience which foods they were throwing away the most. Potatoes, bread, bagged salad, bananas, milk, fresh berries – by the way, the leaves of strawberries are edible. It’s a leaf, it’s fine. I just throw it into a smoothie. It’ll just all get blended up and you won’t even notice it’s there.”

La Manna is bursting with tips that transform how you view stuff you didn’t consider food before. There’s carrot-top pesto: “It’s more flavourful than basil or parsley.” Coffee ground pancakes: “It definitely has that aroma and taste, if you like it.” Soggy cereal ice cream: “People would tell me they end up throwing away a bowl of cereal because it’s sat too long and goes mushy. So I have a recipe where I strain the milk, turn it into ice cream, the leftover cereal gets baked with cinnamon and brown sugar so you have this nice snap, brittle cookie on top. Turning breakfast into pudding.”

There’s also aquafaba, which is the name of the water chickpeas are stored in – but can do so much more, says La Manna. “It’s a great replacement for eggs if you’re plant-based or vegan or looking for an egg substitute. I use aquafaba to replace the egg in pasta. It can make meringues, cakes, everything.”

Then there’s the slippery banana. In the UK we throw out almost one and a half million each day. Not to mention the skins of the ones we do eat. But we don’t need to any longer. La Manna says, “People in most south-east Asian countries eat the banana skin. I did a little digging, tested the recipe, figured out I can make a banana peel curry. I can shred it, marinate with spices like smoked paprika and do like a shredded pork taco. I can make bacon from the banana skin.” Yes, sarnie lovers, Max La Manna’s new vegan cookbook includes a BLT recipe where the B stands for banana.

“I shared it on my social media and people went crazy,” La Manna says. “Soon after, I mean, is it a coincidence? Nigella Lawson ends up putting the recipe for a banana peel curry in one of her shows. I reached out to her saying hey, how was the banana peel curry? She did tweet back, said it was lovely, thank you so much. Anyways…

“With recipes like the banana peel, it’s to access and exercise a part of the reader, to give people the ideas that there’s always something we can do with the food we bring home.

“Food doesn’t just miraculously appear at the supermarket or in your refrigerator,” La Manna continues. “I hope people can start realising that food is important and there are people around the world and close by within our communities who are struggling to put a meal on the table.”

April 26 is Stop Food Waste Day

You Can Cook This book cover

You Can Cook This: Simple, Satisfying, Sustainable Veg Recipes by Max La Manna is out now (Ebury, £22). It’s available to buy from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Farmers are under pressure from Brexit, Covid and war – pushing UK to verge of full-blown food crisis
Farming

Farmers are under pressure from Brexit, Covid and war – pushing UK to verge of full-blown food crisis

Nettle soup and dandelion leaves for lunch: How foraging for food makes you feel 'fully human'
Environment

Nettle soup and dandelion leaves for lunch: How foraging for food makes you feel 'fully human'

32 places where kids can eat free or for £1 during the Easter holidays
kids eat free/ easter holidays
Cost of living crisis

32 places where kids can eat free or for £1 during the Easter holidays

Big Issue Recipe Collection: This sweet and tasty Ukrainian vareniki is 'best comfort food ever'
Big Issue Recipe Collection

Big Issue Recipe Collection: This sweet and tasty Ukrainian vareniki is 'best comfort food ever'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know