We here at Budget Dumpster are very familiar with food waste. Last August, we met up with renowned sustainability advocate Rob Greenfield as he made his 4,700 mile trek across the country. With every stop he made, he painted a vivid picture of just how much food we send to landfills every year. A stack of bananas here, a carton of oranges there, every time he went dumpster diving he managed to find entire bushels of fresh food that could have been someone’s next meal. By the end of his journey, he had found over 70% of his food from dumpsters, roughly 280 pounds of food in total.
Now, there is a Canadian couple taking up the food waste challenge. Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer of Vancouver spent six months without groceries, instead getting their calories from dumpster diving and buying expired/rejected foodstuffs. Their trials and tribulations are chronicled in their new film, Just Eat It, a documentary that delves into the industrial and cultural factors that lead us to discard over $160 billion worth of food every year.
The film is interspersed with interviews from food producers and sustainability experts, including Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland. Their commentary provides essential insights into the food industry that help to explain some of the more perplexing finds that Grant & Jenny make during their dumpster excursions. In one instance, Grant discovers a dumpster full of hummus that was well ahead of its expiration date, three weeks at the least. Such wholesale waste is entirely common for grocery stores and supermarket chains, who have certain standards when it comes to their products.
As the film’s resident experts explain, every retail grocer sets strict standards for all the products they put on their shelves. For producers, this means having to discard items that don’t fit their rules for size, shape, color, and a bevy of other factors. For example, a peach bought by a large grocery chain will be required to be bruise-free, with no discoloration, falling within a particular size and shape. Any peaches that don’t meet these standards are left unsold and are often discarded by the producer. These same rules apply to virtually everything that is grown and sold to large grocery stores. Even bananas are required to have a particular degree of curvature in order for them to be bought and sold on store shelves.
According to the documentary, these industry practices end up wasting nearly 50% of all food produced globally every year. The biggest contributors of food waste are developed countries, in particular the US and Canada, which send the greatest amount of food to the landfill, especially when you factor in food that is wasted by consumers. According to Tristram Stuart, one of the food waste experts interviewed in the film, the US and Canada produce between 150-200% more food than their populations need, creating a huge food surplus that exceeds both foreign and domestic demand.
By the end of Grant & Jenny’s six-month challenge, they had spent just $200 of their own money on food yet brought home a staggering $20,000 worth of discarded food. Chocolate bars, fresh produce, red meat, chicken, hummus, nuts, and all kinds of other fresh, healthy foods were up for grabs. Its enough to make you wonder how people can still be going hungry when so much is left uneaten.
The key takeaway of “Just Eat It” is just how much food can be saved simply by educating consumers to be more discerning. Instead of buying the perfectly rounded, golden-red peach every time you go to the store, try buying some of the uglier, misshapen fruits instead. Instead of buying whatever food strikes a chord with your taste buds, take the time to plan out your meals every week. This will help cut back on the foods you probably won’t eat in time and have to discard or, even better, compost.
Just Eat It is currently making the rounds at a number of film festivals around the world. To see if there’s a screening near you, check out the film’s website here.
Film Poster Copyright: Food Waste Movie