Upon learning that 40% of the food that is produced globally ultimately gets discarded, couple documentarians Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer decide to embark on a six month experiment of eating only food that is discarded or will imminently be discarded, with them even willing to purchase it. The one exception will be meals to which they have been invited by family or friends. As their six month progresses, they are surprised about how easy it becomes to find perfectly good food (especially once they learn the routine of where to find it) but how difficult it is to get food when they ask for it. They also find that they have to reassess their views from eating preplanned meals or eating what they may be craving to eating what is available. In addition to their experiment, food activists are interviewed, they who provide their perspective on among other things the unnecessary reasons for the food waste, which are largely aesthetic and economic, misconceptions by the public especially concerning “best before” dates and by companies as to the donation of what they believe to be perfectly good food, and the unforeseen problematic issues of most of that discarded food going to landfills.
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[distant traffic noise]
Jen: I don’t think we’re foodies. I think we’re more like food fans. You know at parties I’m always the one who’s hovering over the snack table. And even when I was a kid I remember going to my friends’ houses and just like opening their fridge and taking food out of there.
Grant: As a kid I had a problem with rationing than anything. And you can see that even though I’ve got my own candy I’m looking at his going, “That’d be nice.” My mom thinks I’m looking at my brother, admiring my brother but I know for sure that I’m admiring his candy in this photo. I’ve read a couple of news articles now that we’re wasting 40 percent of our food. My question is if that much food is being wasted, how much of it is still good and can I eat it?
Dana: I was looking at various metrics for sustainable agriculture in the fruit and vegetable industry. And I started coming across these numbers about how much was being wasted. And here we were trying to get farmers to be just a little bit more efficient with their water or just a little bit more efficient with their fertilizer use. And yet on the other hand 40 percent of the food was not actually being eaten. And I just thought, how is nobody talking about this?
Jonathan: So 40 percent of everything raised or grown is not in fact eaten. And then globally about one third of all the food produced is not consumed.
Dana: It’s very scattered throughout the system and it makes it hard to point a finger and it also makes it harder to see.
Tristram: If we’re wasting a third of the world’s food supply and we need to increase food availability where it’s needed, cutting food waste is one really quite simple place to start.
Jen: Tomorrow we start living off discarded food so tonight for our last supper we’re having all-you-can-eat. It’s appropriate to eat here because it says “wasted food subject to extra charge”. Okay, so anything expired or already wasted.
Meaning if they’ve put it…
Oh my goodness, if I forget my lunch, do I have to go to like dumpster driving on my lunch break, that’s not cool. [laughs]
Grant: You won’t forget your lunch. I can just picture your boss seeing you, “Jenny? Is everything okay?”
SURVIVE FOR 6 MONTHS ON FOOD WASTE.
1. eat only discarded food.
2. okay to eat what friends and family serve.
6 months to go
Grant: We are super lucky, my brother is moving, he’s clearing out his fridge and it looks like we’re getting our first food score.
Jen: Oh my goodness.
Why weren’t you guys eating this in the last couple of days?
Nick: Because we’ve been at Linda’s parents’. We’re going to take some of it.
Jen: Oh yeah, you should take most of it.
Grant: No, we’ll just take what you think you’re not going to want.
Nick: Okay. Probably won’t have it, you have it.
Oh, it’s fine.
That will keep. No, no, no.
Jen: Are you sure?
Yes! It’s been there forever. The sour cream we don’t want.
You can have that. I hate this. Don’t want that. That’s probably done. Potato salad, garbage. Black beans from the other day, do you want those?
Jen: You want to keep them, right?
Oh, and a nice red onion. This one’s fine, you can have that one. You want some cream? It’s either chili or spaghetti sauce. Chili? You can probably take this one. Look at all this. Thanks for shopping at Nick and Linda’s fridge. When you go shopping and you’re busy you forget what you have. It’s a chore, right? You have to go in your fridge find what you have and then figure out what you need to make a meal off that and go shopping. And the reality is you’re out shopping and busy and you’re like what should we have for dinner? Let’s get this, do-do-do, fill it up, right? And you just keep piling up this, this collection of stuff in the fridge. And some of it it’s like “I don’t want that,” “Do I really want leftovers from last night?” Nothing wrong with food, probably going to taste okay, but I had it last night and so I have to have to have it again tonight but we’ve got enough money to buy a whole brand new meal, right? So that’s part of it, it’s just a wealthy society.
Grant: Thanks, Nick.
Nick: Not bad. This is a small one. That’s good. That would have been… It’s usually like a full Santa bag so good job, guys.
Jonathan: We fill our refrigerators to the point that we couldn’t possibly use everything before it goes bad. There was a study in New York, they looked at all the food waste in one county, and the most waste came from households, more than from restaurants, more than from supermarkets, more than from farms.
In our households we’re wasting somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of the food that we’re buying. You know that’s expensive. I mean imagine walking out of a grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot and just not bothering to pick it up. And that’s essentially what we’re doing in our homes today.
1. the state or quality of being perfect.
Delaney: Seven dollars.
Customer: Okay, thank you.
Delaney: Thank you, have a good day.
Grant: What do you have for culls right now?
Delaney: So this.
So this one I knew it wouldn’t sell when I put it out. It has this little bulge because it rained hard. They get an abnormal formation when it rains and I knew it wouldn’t sell as soon as I put it out. I should have just composted it. That’s why I’m going to give it to you. You guys can totally take all this and take all the chard.
Grant: Well, you’ll use one, right?
Delaney: No, I won’t. Like I can’t use any of this stuff for the weekend.
This is a lot of greens, okay, let’s stop. I’m going to give you ten bucks.
Delaney: Sure. That’s probably too much.
Delaney: My wife and I operate Ice Cap Organics. We’re a market garden farm. We sell mostly to farmers’ markets and the local CSA. We’ve been doing it for five years. We’re all vegetables and that’s what we do for a living.
Hey, dude. How’s it going?
Customer: Good, man.
Delaney: If this was what I had and there was an hour left in the market, that one bunch of chard would sit there, and no one would buy it. But if I had 30 bunches of chard all bursting out I’d probably sell 25 bunches of chard. So what does that say? People are totally impulse shopping and they think if there is one left that there is something wrong with it. People are always looking a lot for value and for aesthetic appeal. And I think a lot of it has to do with people just kind of assuming that what looks better, tastes better. The farmers’ market has more people that are open to trying things that look different and that’s kind of nice but still overall there can be a lot of a good crop at a market that won’t get sold if it has just a slight blemish or something is wrong with it aesthetically.
Dana: Not every apple grows perfectly red and perfectly round on a tree. And so when we expect that going into the store we’re driving waste up the system.
Stores are very careful to have their produce sections look beautiful. And they don’t want to ruin their image by having something like a bargain shelf or products that don’t look perfect.
Tristram: I went to a banana plantation and after one day of harvest on a single plantation there was a truck load of bananas being wasted. And those were being wasted solely on the basis of cosmetic standards. The banana plantations growing bananas for European supermarkets. Supermarkets tell you what diameter, length, curvature, all of those parameters have to be exactly right for that supermarket so bananas basically look the same. It is deeply shocking when you see mountains, concentrated mountains of food being wasted. It’s something that every time I see I still get shocked by it.
Harold: We’re a very large operation for our commodity which are peaches, plums and nectarines. To put it in perspective I probably produce, for peaches, about a third as many peaches as the State of Georgia does.
We have ladies grading the fruit. They’re graders and they sort out the fruit that is not going to go into a box. You know they’re looking for scars like this. That you and I could cut that off right there and eat it but unfortunately they don’t want it in the box. A lot of it is about appearance. This is edible but it’s not edible to the supermarkets.
Harold: They have state standards. They have the USDA or Federal State Standards for product but the retailer standards far exceed that which is placed on us by the state. The amount of fruit that’s left either in the field or is discarded after it gets in the packing house, I’ve seen it as high as 70 percent. The least I have seen is 20 percent that gets thrown away for a lot of times no reason that a consumer would think would be practical.
I’ll call up the food bank and say I can get you an extra load this week because we’re throwing away perfectly good fruit with nothing wrong with it. There is just no market for it.
Harold: We donate a lot of fruit to the Northern California Food Bank but they do not have the capacity or the infrastructure to manage the amount fruit that we could possibly give them. A jam and jelly company will take a little bit of it but there is so much of it that gets thrown away.
As a grower, that’s heartbreaking. When you grow the fruit and there is nothing wrong with it and you can’t sell it, that bothers me.
[fruit thumps, clatters]
Santa Maria, CA
[Cameron Anderson, Harvest Manager Pacific International] So here’s a, here’s a whole celery plant. So on the heart machine, the heart machine will cut the heart to length more or less like that and then the crews will drop that. And there’s your heart. Look at all this. We have to peel a certain amount of stalks off so they can fit in the bag. You know, you saw me, that’s one square foot. And I got probably two pounds of product right there. With a little bit of peanut butter and some raisins you’ve got ants on a log, right? They’re perfectly good stalks. None of us are fans of the waste that we get because obviously there’s a lot of good stuff here you could dice up and put in soups. We’ve tried, it just didn’t even pay for the labour that it cost to pick it up so obviously it wasn’t feasible.
1. the established set of attitudes held by a culture or individual.
Dana: We have this culture of abundance. Part of being a good host is having more than plenty of food available for someone.
If you’ve ever been in that situation where you’ve had people over and completely run out of food at the end of the meal there’s this odd sense that you have failed as a host.
Dana H.: Basic general rule of thumb when you’re a chef and you’re working in a kitchen, don’t ever run out of food ever. Some guests really like that bountiful, plentifulness of a buffet whereas we have guests that come and stay at our hotel and dine with us quite frequently that tell us not to have a lot of food. They want us to be very selective in what we’re putting out and making sure that we’re managing the foods because they don’t want to see that waste.
Jen: Part of my job at work is to organize events. And we always have catering. And I’ve become so conscious of the food waste. We had this event today and it was so frustrating. We were working with another organization and it was a big event. There was like 200 people. Usually we order 75 percent of what there is going to be but they were so paranoid about not having enough food. Like they said that would be the most embarrassing thing possible if we didn’t have enough food. And I felt so peer pressured. We ended up ordering food for 190 people when we thought we would have 200. And we had an unbelievable amount of leftovers. She actually even used the analogy when we were discussing this. She was like, “It’s like when you serve someone at your house, if you had just enough food that would be really embarrassing.” And I was like, “But I don’t think that would be embarrassing I think that would be awesome.”
Grant: Things are going to get harder now because I just realized we’re running low on cooking oil. We’ve still got some flour. We’re out of sugar. We’re out of honey, any sort of sweetener.
Jen: I’m fatigued with this project. I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s not that fun.
Grant: Well the point of the project is not about maintaining a certain happiness or comfort level. It’s about proving that there’s food being thrown away.
Jen: Yeah, but…
Grant: This is not a lifestyle that I want to continue.
Jen: Well neither do I, so let’s stop.
Grant: I don’t want to stop because we haven’t proved anything yet.
Jen: One month, three months, six months like okay, so it’s more impressive than if you do it for ten years. Why don’t you just to do it for ten years then?
Grant: Don’t be…
Jen: Because it’s ridiculous.
[distant traffic hum…] [rustling]
Grant: Let’s see what’s here. [rustling, clatter] Dollar ninety-nine! This is organic here.
Grant: So the last time I came to this place I was in there and I was rooting around the bin and the owner was closing up I guess and threw some garbage on top of me. And he’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I was like “Oh.” He goes, “So…” That was like the lowest of the low.
[Jen quietly chuckles]
Jen: You never told me that.
Grant: I know. I just felt really embarrassed that I was in his bin and then he felt really sad for me probably like, “Oh, I just threw garbage on a bum.”
Grant: That was the lowest point.
Grant: You know I didn’t get anything good that night either.
Jonathan: To me it’s sort of funny that wasting food is not taboo. It’s one of the last things you can do, one of the last environmental ills that you can just get away with. You know if you are walking down the street and had a can of soda you couldn’t find the trash can, you were just going to throw it on the ground. I mean that is the ultimate sin in many places, littering, and you could actually be fined for doing that. Same thing with not recycling. It is something that in many places could get you in trouble but throwing away food is perfectly fine. Wasting food is not only widespread but it’s condoned.
So the last time we were asked to not waste food was during World War II. And there was this sense that we had to sacrifice for the good of the country, for the war effort.
Now here we have an ordinary loaf of home-made bread. Watch closely. [whiz] [applause]
Imagine that, a whole loaf of bread disappearing before our very eyes.
Watch this. [poof] There, madam, is the amount of bread that you cause to disappear every week.
You must be crazy. There isn’t that much bread in the world.
Presenter: There is that much less bread in the world every week through household waste. Yes, ladies and gentleman, it is horrifying fact that waste…
Dana: And there were posters like “food is a weapon, don’t waste it” and all sorts of other propaganda to really encourage the public not to waste food.
Jonathan: And since that time it’s been the opposite.
Dana: Food really became more plentiful. All of a sudden we did start to see much more abundant and cheaper food.
Jonathan: Our notion of what’s a reasonable amount of food to eat has changed. This idea of larger portions is seeping into our households and now we’re serving our friends and families too much food. The Joy of Cooking is that venerable cookbook that’s been around for ages and many of the recipes have stayed the same but the number of people that it serves has changed. And so you’ll have the same recipe from 20 or 30 years ago and in the current version, it’s only feeding two people instead of four or maybe it’s four people instead of six.
The average cookie has quadrupled in calories since the mid ’80s. And we’re looking at larger portions in almost everything we’re eating.
Jonathan: It happens all the time at restaurants where we’re often given so much food that we can either overeat or waste food. And in some cases you can actually do both.
Grant: My granddad never wasted anything. He obviously grew up through that time where people were more considerate through World War II and whatnot. And we used to kind of laugh behind his back because he would always reuse his teabag. I swear that he would use it for days on end.
And at the time I thought that that was really… I thought that was ridiculous like, get a new teabag. And he was pretty much like that with everything. If he had any leftovers even if it was like two spoonfuls left and he couldn’t finish it he would put that in the container in the fridge. And he would eat it. You know he wasn’t just putting his leftovers in the fridge and leaving them there. He would finish them.
What I used to think was funny about what he did I now find it sort of inspiring.
Grant: We’ve had almost no luck finding food behind grocery stores.
Grant: There are almost always locked bins or they are compactors.
It’s locked. Everything is locked.
Grant: Now we’ve been looking a little bit further up the supply chain in wholesale areas a little further out of the city. Holy cow! There’s so much granola. Lots of salsa.
Jen: Hurry up.
Grant: Fudge Walnut Treat, I think it’s fascinating. I, I, I’m starting to enjoy this. I’ve seen people do this in videos and I’ve seen photos and stuff but I didn’t actually believe that this is how much one could find. I thought we were going to be struggling.
Grant: Hi, Mum. Mother
So you’re not starving by the sound of it.
We’re not starving. It’s always a lot of one or two things and there is never… You never sort of have a variety. Mother
Let’s put this in the kitchen.
Jen: Like we’re over here to see family and I don’t want to spend my whole time like driving around looking for food, it’s ridiculous.
Grant: We’re not spending the whole time.
And the other thing is your mom just asked us to pick up two litres of milk so I’m going to pick up two litres of milk for her.
Grant: Yeah, but it’s for her, we’re not going to eat it.
Jen: We said that if we go over to someone’s house we can eat their food so that we can alleviate that kind of stress of making everybody feel uncomfortable but we didn’t take into account like when we go away for an entire weekend. We can’t just like go to someone’s house and then just eat everything they have. We can’t drive around a strange city and try to find some food. I mean we’re trying to do it now and it’s not working out very well. No way there is even anything in there. Is there any way that I could look at the stuff you culled today and buy some of it?
Clerk: Oh, possibly. This is some of salads that we pulled off today.
Oh that’s great. Sweet, okay.
Clerk: They’re just dated and we have pull them off three days before.
Should we get two salads?
Okay, awesome, thanks.
Clerk: You’re welcome.
Grant: Are those culls? Ask him. [laughs] Is that culled stuff?
Clerk: What, right there?
Jen: The bottom of the rack.
Clerk: We’re not allowed to sell that stuff, no.
Clerk: It’s policy. Because we’re known for the highest quality.
Jen: But those bananas look totally good.
Clerk: Just trying to do my job.
I know, you totally are. Can I buy those bananas?
Clerk: Yes, you want to buy the bananas, sure.
Yeah, that looks perfect.
Clerk: Those ones are okay.
Jen: Awesome. I’m not going to ask for a deal. I’d rather just not draw attention to it. And the food is perfectly good anyway.
Cashier: Hi, need a bag?
Jen: No, thank you.
It’s from a pizza chain. Oh my god, look at it. Oh my god, it’s a motherlode! Okay, my buddy is working on a photo shoot for a pizza chain and so they’re shooting all these bits of food. Uh, let’s see what it says, pre-cooked bags of bacon, chicken, sausage, mushrooms. Ahh, chicken! Okay, let’s go. What’s going on?
If you go down there and to the left, you keep going straight you’re going to find a green dumpster. So uh, go and check out what it’s got in store for you. I don’t even know what your game is with this.
Grant: We’re trying to survive off of food waste right now.
Really? Well, you’re going to hit the jackpot pretty soon here. Friend
So, it was in the fridge all weekend.
Grant: Oh, okay. Friend
Food styling is really interesting because anytime you see a picture of food in an ad or in a commercial somebody has spent hours preparing it and making it look just right and choosing the right tomatoes and the right piece of meat and the right pepperoni to make it look really appetizing.
That’s a lot of chicken. You want to take all of it?
Grant: Yeah, we’ll put it in the freezer.
Jen: What are you going to do with these many bacon bits? It’s gross. We don’t even eat bacon, hardly.
Grant: Well, we’ll add it to everything.
Jen: We don’t have anywhere to put it. You get these tomatoes they only have a couple of days on them, then you get some lettuce and it only has a couple of days. And everything in our fridge only has a couple of days. Our whole fridge is full of stuff that needs to be eaten tomorrow. I started making a list on the chalkboard of things that must be eaten in the next day and it’s way more food than we can possibly eat.
Tristram: When we grow food we start with the soil and some sunlight. The plants grow, we harvest the produce. We take it into the packhouse. We’ll sort the ones that fit the standards of the supermarkets that it’s providing. And a lot of that food is wasted at that stage. Then through distribution, it will have to survive a long journey to wherever the shop is. It might sit on a shelf and some of the food might be wasted there.
And then the consumers come in and pick their favourites. And you know, there is your winner! It makes it home, but who knows what happens to it then.
♪ Hey, hey, hey, hey ♪
♪ Ooh, ooh, ohh ♪
♪ Whoaaa ♪
♪ Won’t you come see about me? ♪
♪ I’ll be alone, ♪
♪ dancing you know it, baby ♪
♪ Tell me your troubles and doubts ♪
♪ Given everything inside and out ♪
♪ I’m going to take you apart ♪
♪ I’ll put us back together at heart, baby ♪
♪ Don’t you forget about me ♪
♪ As you walk on by ♪
♪ Will you call my name? ♪
♪ As you walk on by ♪
♪ Will you call my name? ♪
♪ Will you walk away? ♪
♪ Will you call my name? ♪
♪ I say la la la la ♪
♪ La la la la ♪
♪ La la la la la ♪
♪ La la la la ♪
♪ La la la la la ♪
Tristram: When we fail to eat it what we have failed is an entire system which is in itself already wasteful. And all of the embodied energy and the resources in that piece of food, all of that has been wasted. It’s been in vain. ♪♪ Grant: This is my favourite day of the project. I found some chocolate. And I found quite a bit of it.
Jen: Is it expired or something?
Grant: Not for a year.
Microwave. Barbeques. Not on the list. Not even expired. So if they weren’t on the federal recall list and they’re not past date then I think they’re thrown out because they don’t have French writing on them, French labeling. [sizzle]
Jen: So, at the beginning we had four eggs, two for Grant and two for me. And of course he ate his right away, but I’ve been rationing mine because I didn’t know when we were going to find eggs again. I’m saving them in case I need to bake something special. I’ve been going to the grocery store and looking in all the cartons trying to find the ones with the cracked eggs. Nobody wants to buy the cracked ones. So I’m willing to buy the ones that are imperfect and I haven’t found any yet though. But as of today I’d say we don’t have to ration anymore. Grant found tons of eggs in a wholesale dumpster and they still have a few weeks on the date. Actually I think we’re going to have the opposite problem now. Now we have so many eggs it’s like a race to eat the eggs. We’ve putting them in a glass of water to make sure that they sink because that means the eggs are good to eat. But it’s still a lot of eggs for two people.
Delaney: Our farm and all the farms that are like ours, when we have a lot of stuff left over or if a crop doesn’t work out it’s not such a big deal. It’s a loss of time and money but it’s not waste as such because we still use it. We compost it and we actually put it back into the dirt and it’s really valuable for us. It’s to the point where we actually buy compost. Having compost on the farm is also really valuable. Zucchini is always a good example because it, it produces so much at its peak production time that in the shoulder seasons it’s barely keeping up to demand and then once it really ramps up and starts producing the maximum amount it triples the amount of demand. If we grew less zucchini then we’d have less zucchini waste but then we wouldn’t be able to meet demand in the early summer and spring and then in the later summer when things cool down. We sell right to the people that are eating the food. So there is actually very little opportunity for the food to go bad. We harvest on Friday. We sell it on Saturday. Well, it’s going to last for two weeks in your crisper. So you’re going to have a lot more opportunity to use that vegetable.
It tends to be 14 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week during the harvest season. Our harvest season is condensed in this part of the world so we really have to go for it when things are yielding to put enough away for the winter to survive.
[wind howls, birds chirp]
Tristram: Abundance is the success story of the human species. You look back to the creation of agriculture 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, that was all about creating surplus, creating more food than you need in any individual moment. That allows you to store food over the winter. It allows you to store food in case there is a bad harvest. It allows you to trade food, to have feasts which is a really important part of human society. Those are all wonderful things. And in the past if you had even more surplus than you could possibly use, maybe it didn’t matter so much. The problem is now that all rich countries in the world in North America and Northern Europe have between 150 and 200 percent of the food that they actually need.
People think that environmental problems are about smoke stacks, about roads, about factories, about cities and concrete and for sure those are significant. But if you look at the earth from the sky what you see is fields. And it is there that we have had the biggest impact. Wasting a third of the land and all of that energy that we currently use by wasting the food that we’ve produced is one of the most gratuitous aspects of human culture as it stands today.
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At the moment we are trashing our land to grow food that no one eats.
I really see preventing food waste as a parallel to energy efficiency. If you think about both energy and food they’re resource intensive industries facing an increase in demand as population grows and as the world population increases in affluence.
Jonathan: From an energy perspective there’s an estimate that about four percent of all U.S. energy consumption is embedded in the food that we ultimately toss. So four percent of all the energy we’re using is being thrown away.
It’s difficult to think of water as a precious commodity especially for many people who don’t live in desert or drought-ridden communities but the water that is embedded in the food we throw out could meet the household needs of 500 million people.
Tristram: One of the problems when food waste started being picked up by governments and they started doing studies on where food was being wasted and what kind of food was being wasted it immediately became apparent that by tonnage fruit and vegetables were being wasted the most. And so a lot of campaigning went into focusing on fruit and vegetable waste. And that’s not a bad thing. I mean of course we need to not chuck away a whole load of carrots just because they’re not straight, but although the tonnages for meat and dairy products being wasted are much smaller, the resource use represented by that waste of meat and dairy products is far greater. You use vastly more land and other resources to produce your meat and dairy products than you do your vegetable products.
Dana: Just last night I was at a barbecue and there were all these extra hamburgers. For each one of those hamburgers the water that went into producing it is equivalent to taking a 90 minute shower.
Tristram: We have to use our land in a sensitive way, to plan and to manage it in a way that ensures that people are fed and ensures the long term health of the ecosystems that we depend on for our survival.
Jen: Okay, let’s go. It’s a lot different than I thought. I thought we were really going to be scrounging for food. But instead it’s, it’s more like mass quantities of certain foods. The scale of the stuff that we’ve seen so far is pretty shocking and I think we’ve only seen like the littlest bit.
Grant: It’s been impossible to track how much we found. Often when we find a pile of food we’re just looking at the top few inches and it’s eight feet deep. So we don’t even know what’s down there.
It’s been challenging enough trying to log everything that we’ve actually taken.
Grant: 225 grams. Two limes. And a mandarin orange.
Jen: I’ve been trying to track how much food we find. And in the first month alone we brought home 1,127 dollars of food. And even we’re trying to pay for it we only ended up spending 33 dollars. And then after that it just kind of got out of control and I couldn’t even monitor it anymore.
Grant: I’m just starting to lose the excitement of finding tons of food like this. But ultimately it’s the fact that what we’re doing it’s not reducing the amount of waste. Somebody is losing money on this when it gets thrown out.
Jen: I mean, on the one hand I’m happy because we found food and it’s really exciting. And then on the other hand I feel so guilty for even feeling excited because it’s such a shame that so much food is going to waste. And it’s, it’s really depressing actually.
Grant: Highs and lows of the project, you know. Highs and lows. Mmm, this is a high point.
Jen: I’m pretty sure that people think that we’re eating food scraps, scrapings off people’s plates or something because when I tell them about the project they just get this weird look. I mean if they could see the quality of the food that we find and the amount, we’ve been eating pretty well.
Grant: You’re welcome to grocery shop at our house. Take you need, we have too much. Friend
Where’d you find this?
Grant: It’s all in the dumpster, man.
It’s all… In the dumpster? Sweet! Sweet, organic free-range. Cheese, okay. Sure. That looks good. Sweet. Are you sure you can part with all this or?
Jen: Oh yeah.
So none of this is open, it’s like perfectly… There is nothing wrong with any of this. Cool. Cheers, man.
Jonathan: Disking in food or ploughing it under is certainly helpful to the soil. It gets the nutrients back to the soil and helps the soil become more fertile but when you think about the resources that go into producing our food, if we are to rescue those foods and channel them to people who need it that’s a much better use of the resources and nutrients than just simply ploughing it under.
♪ Any day now Any day now ♪
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Jonathan: Gleaning is the practice of going out into fields where there have been harvests already and recovering goods that otherwise would be ploughed under. I go gleaning because it’s a nice way to practice what I preach and to actually do something to recover food and get it to people who need it. It’s a little more participatory and active than just writing books and giving talks. So we’re headed to a sweet potato field. The Society of Saint Andrew runs this gleaning outing. And they run most gleaning outings in this state. Hmm, if you guys want to stick around until 7:00 pm, we can go to the turkey shoot, the Barber Town turkey shoot. I’ve heard good things. Woman
I’ve been good So glad you could come. Picker
They’re perfectly good sweet potatoes and we put them to very good use. And when we deliver them they’ll literally be on somebody’s table tonight.
Jonathan: Wow, that’s great.
Which is a cool thing.
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Jonathan: Now the term gleaning dates back to the Old Testament. And it used to refer to the practice of the hungry folks going to the fields and picking what had been left behind. And many farmers would not harvest certain parts of the field but obviously there have been some changes since that time and now gleaning looks a little bit different where it’s essentially volunteers harvesting food for the hungry.
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Jonathan: There’s a secondary motivation in that it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s really neat to get out into the fields and get your hands dirty and really play a role in our food system. and also connect to where your food comes from.
♪ Well I’ve worked so hard ♪
♪ Pushed my fingers to the bone ♪
Woman: Oh, that’s good. [indistinct voice] Where did they come from?
Jonathan: Just a farmer who wasn’t going to use them and he was nice enough to let volunteers come glean.
Woman: This is good for me. You got more!
They sure look good.
Jonathan: Before I started gleaning I hadn’t grown my own food. I didn’t really know what a broccoli plant looked like. I didn’t know what collard greens looked like in the field. And I certainly didn’t know how hard it was to pick sweet potatoes.
I’ve gained ten pounds. You can see it. There’s definitely a curvature an extra… I think it’s a combination of more processed food but also just stuffing myself when we’ve got copious amounts of one thing. You know, I don’t even like yogurt. I think there’s probably about maybe nine or ten yogurts in the fridge right now. This size if not bigger.
The race is not trying to find food it’s like trying not waste it again.
Jane: But you don’t have to take so much, that’s the thing. You don’t need to get ten yogurts.
I can’t see…it’s just disheartening knowing that that if we don’t take that food that’s there right now, it’s gone. It’s going to landfill next morning. Oh!
Grant: Since the beginning of the project, Jen um, has been missing one food and that’s feta cheese. and the coolest thing is the ‘best by’ date isn’t from a year from now. Well it’s not cool it’s thrown out but it’s cool for Jen. It’s a bit of a surprise. You can come in now. [laughs] I got you something. [laughs]
What is it? [laughs]
Grant: Open it up.
Oh, it’s feta cheese. [laughs] Thank you, that’s awesome. It’s what I’ve been craving. Doesn’t expire until December next year. We have more than a year on it. Wow, I didn’t know that feta lasts that long. That’s amazing.
Dana: About 60 percent of consumers are throwing food away prematurely because they don’t understand what the dates are telling them.
It’s been shown that a million tons just in the U.K. of food are wasted in people’s homes because of date labels.
Dana: There’s two buckets of dates out there. There’s your ‘sell by’ dates that are really a communication between the manufacturer and the store saying, “Hey, if you sell this product by this date, I promise that when your consumer gets it home it will still have a shelf life left.”
Tristram: That date shouldn’t appear visibly, it should be encoded so that only staff understand it because it confuses people. They see ‘display until’, they see a date they think, “Ew, can’t eat it after that date.”
Then there’s this whole other bucket of dates which consumers are meant to see and that’s ‘use by’, ‘best by’, ‘enjoy by’, and ‘guaranteed fresh by’ and those dates are indicators of quality and not safety.
Daniel: There is no regulation that prevents them from selling it after the ‘best before’ date because there is no safety concern with that product.
I’ve talked to manufacturers of pies for example and their ‘use by’ date, isn’t the date that they think that is going to become dangerous in that scenario. They think it’s the date that they think the pastry will stop being perfectly crisp.
Jonathan: Dates often create this sense that we can’t possibly use an item one minute after midnight on the day of the stamp on the package. The only thing required by federal law in the U.S. to have an expiration date label on it is infant formula.
Other than that there’s really no other food product that has a federal regulation.
Grant: Last night I went out looking for food in a place that I’ve gone a few times and found a few things, but I came around the corner and they had brought in a special dumpster and it was the size of a small swimming pool and it was completely filled with hummus.
It’s unlike anything we’d seen so far. And initially I thought oh, it must have all gone bad, they are throwing it out. But when I looked at it, it had three and a half weeks left on the ‘best before’ date. I took three or four home. You can only eat so much hummus. I mean… When we started the project I expected to find some waste and I really had prepared myself to see it, but when you are actually standing in front of something like that, it was totally different.
Jonathan: There is this misconception that simply throwing something away isn’t a big deal because food is biodegradable. Yes, that’s true. If you were to throw an apple core just out into the woods, it’s not a big deal. The problem comes when all that waste is aggregated and it decomposes without air in a landfill. That anaerobic condition is what creates methane which is a greenhouse gas that’s more than 20 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat. So essentially we are creating climate change from our kitchen waste bins.
Dana: Putting food into landfill is just a huge waste of resources if nothing else. I mean those are nutrients that we can be capturing and reusing.
Jonathan: So there’s this hierarchy of uses for our food. Obviously at the top would be feeding people. That might not be just feeding your family, maybe it’s donating food and the applies to restaurants and supermarkets as well. If we can’t feed people then we should try to feed animals. Feeding livestock or chickens or whatever it may be is certainly an age old solution to the scraps and food waste that we have on hand. If you can’t do that then creating energy from it is the next best thing. Then composting, get the resources back into the soil. Only if we can’t do any of the above should we be landfilling or incinerating or sending our food to the waste water treatment plant. In real life it’s flipped around and the majority of our food wastes does end up going to the landfill. In the U.S. it’s about 97 percent of all the food waste that’s created ends up in a landfill or an incinerator.
Tristram: You need a robust system for ensuring that food waste can be recycled, can be feed to livestock and turned back into a resource that we can use.
Janet: Our city is built on excess, everything. We realize it must be though, to bring the people here.
We are taking a source that most people would throw away and we are feeding it to livestock. It’s naturally making protein for humans. It’s the best source for the food scraps. Humans are first. We are about seven miles to the heart of Las Vegas. [rooster crows] Pig farming is our way of life. I started working for the RC Farms in about 1969 and I was secretary for many, many years and then I ended up being boss of RC Farms because I married Bob.
Bob: If you believe in your product, you ought to advertise it. My father and mother, they brought me up on a scrap feeding farm in San Diego. [rooster crows] But then my dad found Las Vegas and they had an abundant supply. Here’s some of the food scraps. Food that you didn’t eat, leftover from your plate we’ll turn it back into a wholesome protein. We process to a boil, this kills all the pathogens and the pigs love it. Thirty tons a day, thousand tons a month, some of it’s never been touched. Look at all that, the pigs are running. [laughs] My standard inventory now is around 2,500 swine on the ranch. [pigs munch] You can hear them. Can you hear them eating? Can you hear them chomping? That sounds like a nice brook over rocks to me. It’s beautiful. [laughs] [munches, slops]
Janet: He loves it and I think it’s just kind of in his blood. He would go out in 114 degree weather and been a hard worker all of his life. Never seen him slack at all.
Bob: Over here is bread, returned bread.
Cakes and so on. Yeah, this would be every week.
Janet: We’ve had numerous offers to sell this property and offer us many, many millions of dollars and go off on cruises. That’s not our lifestyle. We like our old farmhouse. We like our work. And he’ll more than likely will die with his boots on feeding food scraps to pigs.
[water trickles, rain patter]
Jen: Good, they look good. We’ve been saving all of this chocolate because we want to give it out to people so at Halloween we thought it was a perfect opportunity and we’re going to hand it out to the kids. There’s nothing wrong with that or anything. So we’re going to give out these full size chocolate bars. Like when I was a kid that would have been the ultimate.
Grant: Oh hey, guys.
Children: Trick or treat!
Grant: Nice pirate. Pick a bar.
Dad: What do you say?
Child : Thank you!
Jen: Oh you got it, right on!
Dad: Holy cow!
Jen: Happy Halloween.
Woman: Trick or treat.
Dad: These guys give big chocolate bars. You’ve got to come back.
Mom: Mama will share that one with you.
Child: Happy Halloween!
Jen: Happy Halloween, guys. I’m kind of worried because I think people are going to think we’re really rich or something. My goodness!
Grant: Two bars.
Jen: We’re getting generous at this point in the night.
Children: Thank you!
Jen: …three, four. One second, I’ve gotta get more.
Boy: Holy smoky nolly! They’re handing out full bars of chocolate!
Girls: Happy Halloween!
Jen: You too!
Female: It was okay, but after all that build-up we’re like “Oh, we ought to save the chocolate for Halloween” and we only got 19 kids.
Jen: It’s like the exact opposite of what you usually look for. I’m usually looking for the newest stuff. I don’t even usually look at dates at all.
Oh, no, it’s still good. This is all still good. No bread. Right, here we go. Do you have anything that’s close dated or any culls?
Clerk: No, we can’t do that.
Grant: You can’t?
Clerk: No, it’s a food health and safety issue.
It’s a safety, and you can’t… Do you guys donate it then or? You don’t donate?
Clerk: No, it goes straight into the garbage can.
Grant: It goes straight into the garbage.
Clerk: We do that because we get too many lawsuits.
There’s too many lawsuits? Have you guys been sued before?
Clerk: I don’t know, to tell you the truth but it’s a health and safety issue. If it’s post dated, if it’s with within two days, out the door it goes.
Grant: What about any ugly vegetables?
Clerk: Ugly vegetables, same thing. Culls are culls whatever. Same thing.
Tristram: I don’t know the single instance where a company has been sued by somebody who has been the recipient of free, donated food. So I think very often they’re using the fear of being sued to cover their shame.
Jonathan: So in the U.S. anyone who wants to donate food can do so free of fear for being sued. There’s a federal shield law called the Good Samaritan Act that protects people who give food that they deem to be in good shape.
From my perspective it’s a completely unfounded fear.
Tristram: I think that companies are morally responsible for ensuring that the food in their custody gets to people who need it and doesn’t end up in the bin. And we, the public, have a responsibility to demand that that takes place.
Jen: I felt like I’d been reading about food waste but I hadn’t actually been doing anything about it. So I’ve been volunteering once a week at the Quest grocery store. If you’re low income or you feel like you’re in need you can apply to shop at Quest. And they stock the whole store with donated food so they can sell it at a really reasonable rate and it’s a really good bridge in between the food bank and the regular grocery store. It’s great to see that there are grocery stores that donate. I used to be a cashier. I really liked it actually. When I was in university I was a cashier. No, it’s good. It’s like a nice break. At my job job, I like sit in front a computer, right. So it’s a nice break to come here one afternoon a week and do something where I get to like move around and move boxes and do something with my body, you know.
Ken: Quest saves roughly four million dollars a year in food. We only have a little peanut butter. [laughs] Everywhere you look. My name is Ken March. I’m a warehouse supervisor at Quest. Nobody can walk in off the street and shop at Quest. You have to be designated because the goal is to help those in need and not those that have. What we’ve got is things like coconut milk, cranberry sauce, candy, chocolate, spritzers, tomato basil soup, rice crackers, cereals, organic cereals, repack raisins, risotto, butter beans, sun dried tomatoes, peanut butter, peanut butter and more peanut butter. If we didn’t salvage this, all of this food would either end up in the landfill or be destroyed in some way. I’ve worked in the trucking, warehousing and packaging field for more than 30 years. You wouldn’t want to know how much product we would dispose of.
You imagine that there are warehouses that are a million square feet of food products. So something happens to that product whether it would be dated, damaged or whatever, the easiest, most convenient thing to do with it is dump it.
And a large part of dumping is simple economics.
Ken: I really like the concept of Quest. It’s something I never would have known. In all the years that I have turfed goods out the door I wish I would have known. And that’s a big thing, knowing that you can get rid of stuff comfortably and people can use it.
Tristram: What we need is to believe that wasting food is not acceptable. It comes down to citizen morals. It comes down to cultural attitudes essentially.
There are all sorts of changes we can make in our own personal lives to just start chipping away at how much food we are wasting. First of all use our freezers more. You can freeze almost anything and it’s a really great last minute thing to do if you think you’re not going to get around to eating something.
If you’re someone who likes to just shop once a week then it’s really important to plan out meals and make a detailed shopping list and then really stick to that list in the store, or it might make sense to have smaller more frequent trips and just buy what you need.
I think we can start making dinner by thinking of what we have and less about what we’re in the mood for.
It doesn’t require a complete revolution in terms of the way we treat food. It’s just tweaking it slightly and usually in delicious ways.
Grant: So we’re having 20 or so friends over tonight to celebrate the end of the project and everything on the menu is rescued food.
Jen: I’m so excited to be near the end and I bet we’ll still eat a lot of the same food. I think I’ll still try to buy food that’s imperfect and look for those items that I think the other people wouldn’t buy. Honestly, the best part about this project is that Grant took such an interest in the kitchen. He used to look in the fridge and be like, “There’s nothing to eat, I’m going to go out for sushi,” and there’d still be tons of food in there but it just had to be prepared and he wasn’t willing to do that. You’re so happy.
I made a crumble. I’ve never made a crumble before. In the end, of everything that I learned through this project, my new sense of value for food is what’s going to stick with me the most.
Jen: He actually even made recently this little bin and it says “eat me first” on it. We put all the food that’s the leftovers like the half onions and things that need to be used first into that bin and then he’ll go there first and make a lunch out of that.
♪♪ [mingled voices] ♪♪
[clinks on glass]
Thank you for coming and helping us finish off all this food that we needed to get rid of. [laughter] And I guess this is the end.
Guest: To Grant, Jenny, and dumpsters! [cheers, applause] ♪♪
Grant: I definitely won’t miss having to go in search of food. That’s going to be great. But I’m probably going to still have a peek from time to time. I mean how can you not?
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Dana: Just by being aware of it, you almost automatically make a difference because you can’t help it because all of a sudden you start to see it everywhere you go. Food waste we can handle. You know, it’s something we can actually do something about, we can do something about it now.