Italian grandma making gnocchi

Embracing La Cucina Povera: Sustainable Living Starts with Using What You Have

Gillie Roberts, the founder of Ware, a sustainable essentials shop that specializes in low-waste home and body care, shares her thoughts on Italian resourcefulness in the kitchen.

So much of the commercialization of “sustainable living” has led the general public to the conclusion that it’s more expensive to create less waste. The less sexy (and less Instragrammable) truth is that using what you already have will almost always be easier on the planet than purchasing even the MOST sustainable product on the market. In fact, so much of was often gets touted as innovation in the social-media reuse community, is just what folks on a tight budget have been doing all around the world forever. In the case of food, that means that most of our favorite international dishes were products of necessity, not luxury. Even oysters and caviar were once considered poor folks’ food.

In Italy’s case, this is the origin story of what is now formally known as la Cucina Povera. Yesterday’s bread has gone hard? Panzanella. Down to only salt-packed shelf stable pantry staples? Pasta puttanesca. Nothing but the basics in your kitchen and payday isn’t here yet? Spaghetti aglio e olio. In fact, this is how eggless pasta recipes came to be as well. Cucina Povera (literally meaning “poor kitchen”) entails practices that can be found in every culture: using seasonal and local ingredients, minimizing food waste through creative reuse of leftovers or what could otherwise be discarded. The result of such simplicity of inputs is often a dish that is filling, affordable, and truly displays the few ingredients it does contain.

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