“Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying.”

— UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Aug. 9, 2021.

That was the warning from climate scientists in their latest IPCC report issued this week, which details how much the Earth has warmed and what scenarios lie ahead. It’s clear governments and industry must act with urgency to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios.

But what can the rest of us do?

Surprisingly, individuals can do a considerable amount to fight climate change. And much of this battle takes place in the kitchen.

According to Alan Miller, one of the authors of the newly published book, Cut Super Climate Pollutants Now!: “Cutting food waste may be the single most effective way for North American households to help solve climate change. Food waste in landfills is among the largest sources of methane emissions, which are 86 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period. As the new IPCC report recognizes, reducing methane emissions is our best, and perhaps only, hope for avoiding catastrophic warming in coming decades,” said Miller in an interview.

Food waste occurs along the entire supply chain, at the farm, in grocery stores, hotels and restaurants. But the single biggest source of food waste in North America occurs at the household level.

The good news is that if we, as individuals, are the main cause of food waste, then we can also be the solution.

Policymakers need to take urgent action. And then let’s recognize we also have an important role to play, beginning at our next meal, writes @zerowasteindc. #FoodWaste #ClimateCrisis #IPCC

If we managed to eat all the food we buy, we would eliminate most food waste. This is easier said than done as most Canadians throw away 2.2 million pounds of food per year, equivalent to $1,100 per household, according to the National Zero Waste Council. The encouraging news is that research by the same organization shows 94 per cent of Canadians are motivated to reduce their food waste.

So where to begin?

The most commonly wasted food categories by weight are vegetables and fruit. This fresh produce accounts for 45 per cent of the avoidable food waste in the average Canadian household.

I spoke with two Canadian chefs — both spokespeople for Love Food Hate Waste Canada — to find out their secrets for avoiding food waste. Because they spend so much time cooking and trying to minimize costs, their ideas are surprisingly relevant for the humble home cook.

Interestingly, they have two main tactics in common. The first is to have a plan for leftovers, especially fresh produce. They both rely on a go-to recipe for using up leftover ingredients.

For Bob Blumer, celebrity chef and cookbook author, it’s the Weekend Free-ttata, a versatile frittata recipe he created to rescue tired vegetables from the “crevices of the fridge.” “This dish is the Stone Soup of egg dishes, and it’s so rewarding to be able to repurpose unloved ingredients and scraps,” he says.

There is a lot of food we bring home — or rather parts of food — we don’t even recognize as edible. Radish tops and fennel fronds are examples, and these can easily be added to the Free-ttata dish, says Blumer.

You’ll also need a go-to recipe for using up seasonal fruit before it goes bad. Christine Tizzard, Canadian recipe developer and author of Cook More, Waste Less, has her favourite solution for an abundance of fruit: compote. She describes this as “the old French way of putting everything in a pot and stewing it until it’s soupy.” This refrigerates well, and she recommends spooning it over ice cream or morning granola.

The second food waste reduction tactic is to think of your freezer in new ways. In a recent blog, I suggest making your freezer your ally. We might assume any decent chef would favour fresh over frozen food, but not Blumer and Tizzard.

Blumer admits that he views freezing differently since the pandemic. “At the start of the pandemic, since I couldn’t shop regularly, I bought a lot of fish and froze it. When I got around to thawing it, I realized that when it is cooked properly, for a million dollars I would not be able to tell the difference between fresh and frozen,” says Blumer. “I was so impressed that I went out and got another small freezer for my garage. It has allowed me to store veggie cuttings, bones for stock, and odds and ends, such as leftover bread. I think of it as a great zero-waste investment.”

Tizzard says the key way she avoids produce waste is by freezing her vegetable scraps — everything from celery stumps to onion skins — in a large silicon bag. Once the bag is full, she makes a vegetable stock from the scraps. Both Tizzard and Blumer are emphatic about the importance of getting the last of the goodness out of vegetables with homemade stock.

As the sobering climate science reports begin to emerge this month, let’s remember: Policymakers need to take urgent action. And then let’s recognize we also have an important role to play, beginning at our next meal.