By Allison Lacko
Wasted! A Story of Food Waste is a documentary produced by Anthony Bourdain, the chef whose job travelling around the world we’ve all wanted at some point. Wary of being branded as an activist, Bourdain takes on the issue of food waste because it’s personal: “I came up in kitchen regimes where you live by an absolute rule of using everything and wasting nothing.”
Food waste is not a new issue. Personally, however, I had not grasped the scale of the problem we currently have on our hands. Wasted tells a sobering story of just how much food is thrown out all along the food supply chain, from farm to table. Think about this: 40% of all food produced in the US will be wasted. This translates into huge losses of water, energy and labor required to produce food nobody will eat, exacerbating problems like water scarcity and climate change.
You should watch Wasted because it offers examples from around the world of how chefs, businesses and governments are breaking through this seemingly insurmountable and complex issue. Take Toast Ale,for example, a British brewing company that salvages surplus fresh bread crusts and uses them to make beer. Or Daily Table, a Massachusetts-based supermarket that recovers food from other retailers, distributors and growers that otherwise would have gone to a landfill. This food is then sold at reduced prices in low-income neighborhoods. At the governmental level, France enacted a law in 2016 penalizing supermarkets for their food waste. While the law has faced challenges in enforcement, the law is part of a broader national campaign which earned France first place in the 2017 Food Sustainability Index.
Most importantly, Wasted offers an action plan for all of us to reduce food waste. Here’s how:
- Buy local and support businesses that promote food sustainability
- Why? Reducing transportation time means your food is fresher and will last longer. Also, if you buy directly from farmers, less food will be wasted in transportation and distribution. In addition, you can buy the lumpy fruits and vegetables that supermarkets may not buy. That tomato that looks like a duck is still nutritious.
- How to: Shop at the Carrboro or Chapel Hill farmer’s markets. If you’re thinking about a CSA, consider Hungry Harvest, which rescues produce that would otherwise go to waste. They’ve just started here in NC, so use promo code HEALTHYNC to get $5 off your first delivery. Alternatively, Ungraded Produce is another home delivery program, started here in the Triangle by students at Duke. They recover “ugly,” ungraded produce that farmers can’t sell.
- Store smart
- Why? In Wasted, we learn that 90% of all food waste in the US ends up in a landfill. When recovering food waste, food in a landfill is absolutely the last thing we want. In the oxygen-depleted environment of a landfill, organic matter decomposes into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Not surprisingly, US landfills lead the way in methane production.
- How to: Compost at home! Or, if you don’t have the space, collect your compost and have it picked up from your home by CompostNow or drop it off at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market or the Carolina Community Garden. If you’re organizing an event and want degradable plates or a way to compost the food scraps, check out Food FWD here in the Triangle.
I’d like to highlight this last point: composting matters. I thought throwing out biodegradable food was fine, maybe even good for landfills. It helps everything else break down, right? But did you know that a head of lettuce can take up to 25 YEARS to decompose? That’s right, lettuce – the same vegetable that seems to go bad mere minutes after storing it in your produce drawer. And immortal landfill zombie lettuce ultimately becomes methane. Here in the US, the responsibility here truly relies on you and me. Last year, the Trump administration weakened rules put in place by the Obama administration to reduce methane from landfills.
Invite a friend or family member to watch Wasted with you. The documentary brings needed attention to the urgency of food sustainability. Be warned, the scale of food waste is horrifying and frustrating. Yet Wasted balances this by elevating the ingenuity of chefs, businesses, nonprofits, governments and everyday folks like you and me, leaving us empowered to take action and make a real difference.
Peer edited by Mimi Huang