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Almonds: A Surprising Solution to Food Waste?

Max La Manna explores how California almonds, and the farmers who grow them, are helping to solve one of society’s biggest challenges.


By Max La Manna, low-waste chef and author


One of the most enjoyable parts of my day is making myself a cup of coffee or maybe a proper cup of tea – it really depends what mood I’m in. With every cup, I reach in my fridge for the milk – I normally choose almond milk, and every time I do, I’m transported to the time when I visited an almond orchard in California. It was in bloom and was beautiful.

I love almonds. I eat them, drink them and cook with them. They’re a great staple for people who want to explore plant-based diets whether for health or sustainability reasons (which I’m always keen to get more of us to try!). Like many plant-based ingredients, as people start to think more about what they’re eating, where it comes from and how sustainable it is (because let’s face it, the climate crisis is going nowhere fast) – almonds have naturally also come up against some questions.

From my point of view, I think it’s great that so many of us are now more environmentally-minded and are asking more and more questions, but we also need to understand that everything we do has an impact and we need to think bigger. Whether we like it or not, we as a consumer society are the biggest driver of climate change so we need to think much more about how we shop, live, eat and consume. Nothing and no-one is perfect but we do need to think about where and how we can make the biggest difference. Choosing responsibly grown almonds could, in my opinion, be part of the solution to minimise the impact we have on the environment. Let me explain.

Whether you’re an environmentally minded consumer or not, food waste is one of the biggest threats we’ll see in our lifetime. It’s said that nearly ⅓ of all food produced globally is wasted every year1, but we still proceed to waste precious food and resources – because food continues to go in the bin for whatever reason and that’s the last many of us will think about it. However, food that is wasted and sent to landfill is embalmed over decades at a time and during this time, the food goes through a natural decomposition and breaks down; slowly releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, which is a driver of climate change. Remember folks, as our climate changes and breaks down, we are more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, which in turn makes it harder to grow the food we need to survive.

Over the past six years, I’ve been on a mission to educate and inspire consumers, businesses and governments to change and re-think the way we shop, store food and cook to minimise waste. I believe that the only way to learn and make a difference is by getting stuck in, and there are many simple and easy things you can do yourselves to reduce the amount of food waste you generate. Here are a few of my top tips:

  • Get shelf-life and storage savvy: Think about the shelf-life of foods you buy and make use of different storage options to make your food last longer. Filling your cupboards with shelf-stable foods such as almonds, which have a long two-year shelf life, means you can worry less about food going off. Make friends with your freezer to extend the shelf life of fresh ingredients – almonds, herbs, potatoes, bread and even wine can be frozen!
  • Put away the peeler: Don’t peel your veg and throw away the skins - keep them on! They’re packed with nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. If you prefer your veg without you can still find ways to use them. Why not boil them to make a vegetable stock or bake them with spices for a tasty snack?
  • Love your leftovers: Have fun experimenting with leftovers. Why not challenge yourself to create something new with all the leftovers in your fridge. Making sure you’ve got a well-stocked spice rack makes it easy to transform leftover ingredients into tasty meals.
  • Shop smart: Plan your meals before making your shopping list and only buy what you need to avoid surplus food. Look to buy versatile ingredients such as almonds, mushrooms, cauliflower and potatoes that can be used in lots of different ways, meaning you’re less likely to waste them. If you do find yourself with extras, share it with friends, neighbours or a local charity – there are some amazing apps that allow you to donate food with a click of a button.

But it’s not just about what we can do in our own homes. A significant amount of food is wasted before it even reaches our plates and I’ve been literally getting my hands dirty to find out more.  I’ve been fortunate enough to visit farms across the UK and in the U.S. to see how farmers are innovatively combating climate change.

Back in 2019, I visited an almond farmer in California to understand how almonds are grown and how farmers are dealing with issues around food waste and climate change. Like many others, I had some preconceptions. I’d consistently read that California routinely suffers from droughts and the almond industry is big – so could it really be sustainable? But I left feeling energised and optimistic about what I saw and heard from the farmers (for whom I naturally had loads of questions!).

With the warm California sun on my shoulders, I learned that almond farmers are making use of everything they grow. The hulls that grow around the almond are nutrient-rich and are typically used for animal feed, however, as the health of our planet decreases, and circularity becomes more urgent, almond farmers in California are investing and researching into increasingly unique and creative ways to use everything in ever more sustainable ways. For example, researchers are testing how the hulls can be used to make high-fibre bread, as a coffee or tea replacement, an ingredient in other foods such as nutritional bars, or to even brew beer! The shells almonds are grown in can be used to strengthen recycled plastic products. Even the trees aren’t going to waste! When almond trees reach the end of the production cycle, they are ground up and returned back to the soil which increases crop yields, water retention and improves the soil’s ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. This is a great example of what the future of our food industries could and should look like.

The almond industry is an example for all food sectors. If you knew that your favourite ingredients were also part of a circular economy and made use of all coproducts, wouldn’t you enjoy your food that much more? In fact, according to research from California Almonds, over two-thirds (68%) of Brits say they would be more inclined to buy certain foods if they knew they had been grown using zero or low waste methods. Reducing our food's environmental impact with innovative techniques and practices is the way forward, and for me anyway, makes it more enjoyable to eat.

Zero-waste isn’t the only thing that California almond farmers are investing in; they are also working towards targets across water efficiency, pest management and air quality. For example, between 1990 and 2010, they reduced the water needed to grow each almond by 33%. In 2018, they set a goal of an additional 20% reduction by 2025 and have already achieved 15%.  

Now, let me get back to pouring some almond milk in my tea.

This article featured in Max La Manna’s monthly newsletter, Leftovers.

Low-waste chef Max La Manna’s recipe content and food shows have been seen by over 1 billion people.

Max is a social media sensation with over 1.2 million followers across his social media accounts, where he shares ways that people can rethink their food consumption to make the most of the food we buy.

Through his viral recipe videos and work with BBC Earth and beyond, Max has inspired people across the world to rethink their approach to food consumption and made it his mission to breathe new life into our leftovers that are typically destined for the bin.

Max’s recipes have been featured far and wide, including publications such as Vice, Vogue, The Sunday Times, BuzzFeed and The Guardian Feast. His debut cookbook was named Most Sustainable Cookbook in 2020 at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and he was named Digital Creator of the Year at the 10th annual Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards in May 2022. Max has developed and presented several series with the BBC and he helmed BBC Earth’s 2020 series, Regeneration Food, which showcased how businesses, organisations and leaders are wasting less to reduce their carbon footprint.

Topics: Growing Good