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‘Scrappy cooking’ for food waste helps Canadians save amid inflation

In 2021, Carleigh Bodrug posted a video online of herself using leftover orange peels, sugar and water to make candy that — in her words — “literally tastes like gummy worms.”

She reminded people that citrus peels are edible and don’t have to be tossed in the garbage, stuck the label “scrappy cooking” on her video and walked away.

The response was electrifying.

“I came back an hour later, and that video had been viewed by millions of people,” said the Barrie, Ont., cookbook author and food blogger.

“Everybody had struck up this conversation about food waste that previously wasn’t being had. I just thought, ‘Wow.”‘

That “scrappy” culinary moment appeared to strike a chord with millions of people who were stressed out by rising food prices and ever-tighter family budgets.

It became the inspiration for Bodrug’s soon-to-be-released second cookbook, and inspired her popular social media series where she shares tips such as how to make pesto using the tops of carrots and beets or how to turn potato peels into a delicious crispy snack.

According to a 2021 UN report, the average Canadian household produces 79 kilograms of food waste per year. This refers to food that is thrown out because of issues like improper storage, overbuying, inefficiently used ingredients going bad, and poor planning.

Wasted food has an environmental impact, in that disposed-of organic material in landfills is a source of greenhouse gas emissions.

But it’s also, as Bodrug puts it, “literally like throwing money down the drain.”

In Canada, the National Zero Waste Council has estimated that more than a third of food produced and distributed domestically never gets eaten, and that $49 billion worth of food in this country is sent to landfill or composted each year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a family of four wastes about US$1,500 in food annually.

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“I polled my audience a couple of weeks ago on what the average family spends on groceries in a week, and it was over $200 in groceries,” said Bodrug, who now has 3.2 million followers on the social media website TikTok.

“”I mean, there’s huge opportunities there for saving.”

Joshna Maharaj, a Toronto-based chef and activist, said she’s fascinated by the “scrappy cooking” movement and the sudden popularity of making fresh pickles with leftover brine from a store-bought jar of dills, or freezing the green tops of strawberries for smoothies.

While the trend is obviously rooted in the current cost-of-living crisis, Maharaj said she believes there’s also some nostalgia there for earlier time periods when nearly all cooking was done at home and nothing went to waste. Some Canadians may recall the budget-friendly recipes or household economy habits of their grandparents, who may have learned how to conserve during the Great Depression or Second World War.

“People have a longing for being in the kitchen, but we’ve become so disconnected from it over time that we have a fear and anxiety about it,” Maharaj said.

“But regardless of what time period we’re living in, I can confidently say that cooking your food for yourself at home is the most nutritious and economical way for you to eat. There’s no question.”

It’s possible to work toward a full-fledged zero-waste kitchen, doing things like using spent coffee grounds to flavour cookies and brownies or regrowing green onions by planting the leftover white tips.

But Maharaj said for most people, developing simple habits like weekly meal planning and regular fridge and pantry clean-outs can significantly reduce the amount of food they throw away.

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“Omelettes and frittatas are a wonderful way to use up scraps. Make friends with dishes like soups,” Maharaj said.

What’s required here is just more habits and intention and time spent.”

Canning, fermenting, dehydrating and freezing are also great ways to reduce food waste, especially if you have a garden or are buying in bulk from the farmer’s market, said Heather O’Shea, the Whitby, Ont., woman behind the blog “From Hustle to Homestead.”

O’Shea also suggests home cooks keep a bag in their freezer where they toss bits of onion, tops of carrots, celery leaves and other produce scraps throughout the week. When the bag is full, simmer the works in a big pot with some salt and pepper for flavourful home-made vegetable broth.

“Never, never buy soup stock at the store if you can make it from what you would have thrown away,” she said.

The key, O’Shea said, is to start small and not to get overwhelmed.

“Start with what you can start with. Don’t try to do everything at once,” she said.

“There’s a lot you can do to both save money and reduce food waste, so start with one thing, and then add another thing in time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.

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