“Clean your plate”, “Eat your vegetables”, “Just one more bite”, “There are starving children in…” are all phrases our parents and grandparents used to convince us to try and not waste food. However, what they didn’t know is they were fixing a pothole while the highway crumbled. The problem of food waste is enormous and finishing what’s on one’s plate is the smallest part of the problem. Filmmakers Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin decided to examine the full spectrum of food waste by vowing to not buy groceries for 6 months and live only on “discarded” food. When I first thought about what that would mean – dumpster diving – I envisioned half eaten sandwiches and apples with one bite taken out. However, the biggest thing this movie does, and does well, is show us that perfectly good food, packaged, clean, and still edible is thrown away in truckloads based on a system that consumers have essentially forced into place.
We have become a food culture that questions the safety of slightly misshapen vegetables, obsesses about almost arbitrary “sell-by” dates, and refuses to buy the last of anything. We have lost the ability to judge whether our food is good based on taste or smell.
Rustemeyer and Baldwin show us that going to dumpsters to get your food often means feast or famine, but the feast is usually so much more than you could eat through 3 famines. They find an overflowing dumpster with perfectly packaged containers of hummus still a year from their printed expiration date. We have become a culture that would just assume that means they are bad, and not that the company perhaps made too many or misprinted a label or that the grocery store couldn’t or wouldn’t sell them. We have become such a suspicious and visually conscious society that we don’t know how spoiled food would look and have decided half a stalk of celery is more visually appealing than the whole thing, leaves and all.
Watching the filmmakers go through this journey made me so much more aware of my own biases and how as a society we have distanced ourselves from food production and let the grocery stores drive such a wasteful system that throws away food because we don’t have a way that can profitably absorb the amount of waste we produce. There are steps you can take to promote a better system – buy the last bag of carrots or last 3 oranges – there’s nothing wrong with them. Understanding our own bias toward perfect looking food can be the first step in recovering from our wasteful system. Oh, and finish the food on your plate. Your parents were right.
Sunday, April 27, 9:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tuesday, April 29, 4:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre