Life as I know it: Max La Manna

Zero waste chef and Eco-Age contributor Max La Manna shares his journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, and how embracing change has created new opportunities along the way.

My parents inspired confidence within me at a young age.  I can still remember the day my father first said to me, “be strong and give it all your best”.  Whether it was the night before a school exam that I failed to study for, or a swim meet that I was prepared to win – my father instilled in me that I do my best. 

But to do my best, I had to be open to change. I had to move with change.  I had to just allow change to happen and that doesn’t happen easily – it’s taken years to be relatively open to change, and to not to be discouraged because we can’t control any of this – this world we live in. All we have to do is accept and trust

For the most of my twenties, I thought I wanted to be an actor.  I went to acting school in New York City for five years and gave it all I had.  I eventually moved to Los Angeles where I picked up a recurring role on a daytime soap opera.  I had to trust.  Though my dreams of becoming an actor came true rather quickly, I didn’t set goals for myself for the future and fell out of love with acting – there was something else I needed to do. 

A few months later, I found myself packing my bags and moving to Australia.  I had no clue what I was doing or what I wanted to do, but knew that something needed to change.  Living in Oz was quite difficult and challenging. I had to fly across the world, sit upright in coach for 16 plus hours to figure out that I needed change in my life?  I was lost, so I took myself down to the beach one afternoon to clear my mind.  As the waves crashed ashore and the sound of hungry seagulls above, I began to drift into a meditative nap. When I awoke, I had this deep pressure inside of me to be real and honest with myself – “Max, what can you see yourself doing every – single – day?” I quickly jotted down 10 things I can see myself doing everyday (and have committed to doing most of them everyday).

It was simple.  It was clear.  It was time for change.

Back in New York City I found my answer – Rubbish.

Coming home late one evening, I met Paul who was sitting outside in the cold begging for money and food.  I promised Paul that I’d be back with food – food that I would cook for him. When I arrived home and checked my fridge for food, I notice that some of the food was going off.  I opened my rubbish bin and tossed the uneaten food “away”.  

Then the list I created back in Australia came to mind.  I hadn’t been active in my pursuit of being sustainable. ‘Be sustainable and a conscious consumer’ was #7 on my list. I knew I needed to create less waste and be more mindful of my choices, but I wasn’t actively living it through.

I had to change.  I had to – just do it.  My focus was food and how to waste less.  So, I started asking myself the same questions that people now ask me on a daily basis –   “How do I begin?”

I began by shopping for food with less packaging (still plastic), then slowly avoiding extra packaging altogether (bye, plastic). Bringing my own bags to the store with me really helped and ensured that I wasn’t adding more waste to our landfills and oceans or destruction to our natural resources. Shopping at bulk stores (such as The Source Bulk Foods) for food that would typically be in packaging such as, grains, nuts, and detergent.

When time came for cooking, I laid out all my ingredients and placed a small bowl just next to my cutting board and knife. This bowl was for my food scraps and compost.  During this time, I had removed my rubbish bin from my flat, so I wasn’t pressured to toss anything “away” and still remain without a bin today!  Slowly, I began to see how much food I was wasting after every meal and remembered my cold friend Paul – who was struggling to find a meal that night. I made a vow with myself that night that I would never waste a single scrap of food again. Sounds familiar too, right? Maybe your parents telling you “don’t waste your food” rings a bell?

It’s now been roughly 16 months of living plastic-free and no food waste.

This world is always changing.  We outgrow clothes. We eat things now we would never try as a kid. We fall out of love with our distant fantasies. We fall in love with the things that matter most. We learn – and we share.

Of course, my life has changed since actively making the choice to do so – naturally.  It’s opening opportunities for me that I would never imagine. It’s shaped my lifestyle and the choices I make each day, who I want to spend my time with the most and how I spend that precious time, but also how I want to leave my mark.  

I have also been vegan for almost seven years, which has been a challenge.  It’s been most difficult adopting a new lifestyle, but the radical changes to my health and the impact I’ve made with friends, family has been worthwhile.  My father at 64 has been plant-based for almost five months now, and my mother is also vegetarian.  Changes can be made and if you want to make an immediate impact – look and see what’s on your plate. Our future depends on it.

Read Max’s tips for how to travel plastic free and try his zero waste pasta recipe.

Inspired? See our 8 zero waste swaps for families and 10 simple swaps to cut down on plastic.