Over the course of Bon Appétit's Project Recipe—cooking my way through their top 100 dishes—I have learned a lot of things. I've learned about flavor profiles—I now speak, albeit somewhat haltingly, the language of cooking. I've learned some knife skills, nothing fancy, but a julienne here and there. And I've learned that I produce a lot of organic waste. Even when I do my best to incorporate all aspects of a vegetable (cooking the beet and the beet greens for example) I end up with some left over. Carrot peels, for example, have nowhere to go but the trash.
I should be composting. Deep in my heart I've known that all along.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines "compost" as organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants. In plain English, that means coffee grounds, nut shells, tea bags, fruits, ashes, lint, and other things that can be smushed into piles on top of soil to save our planet (here's a full list of what should be composted and what should not).
The truth is, I know how to compost.
Tree People was my favorite field trip in elementary school, outpacing the children's museum and the sewage treatment plant, so I've known what it is and how to do it since 5th grade.
So what's the hold up? I live in an apartment. One that is devoid of outdoor space. We have houseplants; an enormous amaryllis and a withering orchid... In New York one could drop off one's organic scraps at community gardens. The same opportunity does not exist in L.A. I have done some Internet research and weighed my options:
1. Give my scraps to a neighbor with a yard who composts. I certainly would, but it turns out that they would be committing a crime. In L.A., it is illegal to compost things not generated on site. You would think it wouldn't matter, but people have been fined for it. A local "farmer" (she has a lot, not a plot) was collecting vegetable scraps from a restaurant and composting when her neighbors complained. (The restaurant in question, Canele, is one of my favorites.)
2. VERMICOMPOSTING! That's composting with worms. The city of Los Angeles has an excellent explanation of this in their guide to composting. My Latin is rusty so I first thought, "Hmm. I must use vermin to compost." Although I have nothing explicitly against worms, I am not interested in them being in my kitchen (again, no outdoor space). I could ask my landlord if I could have a worm bin by the trashcans. He might indulge me. But, this method can be slow moving (worms have small digestive tracts). And, much like humans, you have to change their bedding occasionally. If I was doing the some old-fashioned pile composting I'd totally throw some worms in, I'm just not sure about a worm bin under the sink.
4. Then there is the Nature Mill—an automatic indoor composter that mixes, heats, and aerates food waste, turning it into rich soil. It seems like the answer to an apartment composter's prayers—I could donate this rich soil to neighbors or a garden without breaking the law. But, at $300, it's not exactly in my budget.
I think my best bet is a polite inquiry to my landlord about putting a bin by the trash cans and inviting my neighbors to join me. There are some lawns near by, I'm sure they'd appreciate the soil.
Bridget Moloney is an actress, writer, novice home cook, and blogger for Bon Appétit.