Tribeca 2017 Review: Wasted

Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright - May 23, 2017

From beginning to end, food is an environmental hazard. Food production is a major source of deforestation. Industrialized agriculture often leads to a loss of biodiversity. And a third of our food goes uneaten, tossed into landfills where it becomes the harmful green house gas methane.

The solution to these problems isn’t complex. We could just waste less food.

Annually 1.3 billion tons of food is thrown out by grocery stores, farmers, restaurants and consumers, all the while millions of people go hungry everyday. While Wasted! The Story of Food Waste is certainly not the first documentary to explore the tragedy of food waste and its environmental repercussions, it gives a refreshing look at the way it could be solved, through alternatives of where our unused food could go. The problem is examined by the world’s most acclaimed chefs, including Dan Barber of TedTalk fame, Chef’s Table featured chef Massimo Bottura, and the film’s narrator and producer, Anthony Bourdain – who brings his intimate knowledge of the food industry with his usual sass and disdain for the consumer.

As opposed to shaming us for the food toss out, the chefs in Wasted! implore us to reconsider what we define as waste. The majority of this documentary explores the lost opportunities for food waste, such as scraps turned into animal feed, Greek yogurt byproducts used anaerobic digestion to make energy, or even leftover bread crust turned into beer.

The film argues that food waste isn’t just about eating everything on your plate, but rather rethinking how we look at food and what we choose to eat. Tons of vegetables never make it to market, because stores know shoppers won’t buy oddly shaped foods, even if they’re perfectly edible. Other foods are never grown or eaten, because they are unfamiliar to the public at large, which instead tends to opt for a narrow range of foods. Wasted! also circles through the tenets largely advocated by the “nose to tail” movement, which stresses the importance of using the entirety of an animal as opposed to just the most popular cuts. But as Dan Barber argues, the same principles could be applied to plants such as cauliflower, which is known for its white base but also grows lengthy leaves that go uneaten.

The ideas promoted by these chefs have been core tenets of the trendy “farm-to-table” and “nose-to-tail” movements, which have also been often criticized for only being accessible to communities that can afford the higher prices these foods command. Namely for the wealthy, liberal elite Manhattanite hipster who can pay for the overpriced organic tofu that Bourdain routinely mocks. The values were considered unattainable by the underserved communities that lack accessibility to healthy and affordable food.

But Wasted! discusses how food waste and its prevention can impact communities who traditionally haven’t had access to healthy food. One solution is Massachusetts grocery store Daily Table, a non-profit opened by former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch, to make healthy food more easily available. Daily Table sells grocery surplus food at steep discounts to make nutritious and fresh food economically competitive with fast food establishments.

In addition to making food available, food waste is solved by raising a generation of eaters who understand their food and its role in the large food cycle. This includes garden education programs being established in underserved schools, which teach children how to compost, and in essence, value their food. The film encourages its viewers to care for their food, respect where it comes from, and discuss on a systemic and personal level, reexamining our food choices, and how they connects with so many aspects of life, from food insecurity to climate change.

This documentary does what it asks viewers to do: to consider new unexplored options in our food. Wasted! isn’t the foreboding and pessimistic documentary attempting to scare you into action. Instead, it is a story of hope, inspiring people to find opportunity in places they may not have previously considered, and being willing to try and discover foods they’re unfamiliar with.

Wasted! doesn’t point fingers at a single cause of food waste, but dissects a multi-faceted problem that requires action at every link in the food chain. It beautifully contrasts the world we are creating with the world we could make by reducing the amount of food we discard. If watching this doesn’t incite you to act and make you empathize with the millions who are hurt by food waste, then as Bourdain says, do it just to “enjoy the smug self-satisfaction.”

Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright

Lacy is a senior studying Art History and Urban Education Policy. And like her coffee she's small, strong but comes with a kick. Lacy covers documentaries and gender representation in media.