“It doesn’t require an entire revolution in the ways that we treat food, it’s just tweaking it slightly and usually in delicious ways.”
As a huge lover of food and as someone who loves to cook, this documentary grabbed my interest within the first two minutes of it starting. Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer are partners who live in Vancouver, BC. This documentary follows the couple as they try to complete the challenge of only eating food that is expired or was already wasted with the exception of what family and friends serve during get-togethers. This all started when Baldwin heard that we are wasting 40% of our food and he thought “How much of that food is still good and can I still eat it?”
This film runs for 75 minutes and it includes interviews with Jonathan Bloom, Dana Gunders and Tristram Stuart, all of whom give shocking statistics and insight concerning food waste. However it makes you think- how did this all begin? We went from using food as a weapon in World War Two when food conservation was a form of propaganda to having ONE THIRD of the food that is produced not being consumed. It is no surprise that we live in what people call a “wealthy society” and many of us buy an abundant amount of food without thinking twice. We are constantly going impulse shopping however 15-20% of food we’re buying is being wasted. This is the equivalent of going shopping, leaving with four bags full of food, dropping one bag in the parking lot and not going back to pick it up.
The grocery stores we buy our food from are also major factors in this issue. If there is any abnormal formation on the fruit such as a slight blemish, an odd shape etc then they won’t put it on display to be sold. It will automatically go in the dumpster. They are more concerned with the aesthetics because many people believe that “What looks better, tastes better.” When it comes to retail standards, there is no market for imperfect food. 10%-25% of food that is sent to grocery stores is thrown out once it is received because of cosmetic reasons. When asked about why so much food goes to waste, even if it is still perfectly good, stores say that when the food is within two days of its sell by date or ugly, it is a “Health and Safety” issue and that there have been two many lawsuits so the food has to be thrown out. However, none of these stores can give an example of a time when a store was actually sued for donating the food rather than throwing it out. There is no record of this ever happening. In the end stores use the “Fear of being sued to cover their shame”. In the U.S. there is a Federal law called the Good Samaritan Act, so giving the food away or donating it is legal. Therefore, being sued is impossible and it is an unfounded fear.
We need to be more conscious of our actions as consumers. When we host dinner parties or gatherings, if we run out of food we have the odd sense that we failed as a host. Chefs in kitchens are told to NEVER run out of food. In some societies, the ultimate sin is littering and not recycling while wasting food is almost condoned. The famous cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, still has almost the exact same recipes as the first edition. However, the only thing that has changed is the number of servings. Since the 80’s, the average cookie has quadrupled in size. In many societies, we buy an abundant amount of food because we CAN and we have slowly become accustomed to larger portion sizes.
60% of consumers also don’t understand the dates on the products. There are two dates that we are given. The first one is the “Sell By” date. This should not even be visible to consumers and it should be encoded solely for the companies to see. Many consumers see this and mistake it for the second date that we may see, the “Best Before Date”. Whether the expiry date is shown as “Use By”, “Best By”, etc. this is only used for the quality of the product, not the safety of the product. In the U.S, the only thing that is Federally mandated to have the expiration on it is infant formula and nothing else.
One month into the challenge, Rustemeyer states that she does not want to continue doing the challenge because “it’s not fun anymore”. Baldwin goes on to state that it was never about comfort or about being a fun challenge. “I don’t want to stop. We haven’t proved anything yet.” Later on in the movie, Baldwin finds several boxes of big chocolate bars that were still good, only expiring in ONE YEAR and yet they were all thrown out. Baldwin also checked to make sure that they had not been recalled for any reason; they weren’t. Therefore he believes that this ridiculous amount of chocolate was thrown out simply because of the labeling. The packaging had been in English only and did not have any French writing. I used to work in a pharmacy and I have witnessed this happen myself. It wasn’t always food products but anything that did not have bilingual packaging had to be either sent back or thrown out.
Baldwin and Rustemeyer had been tracking the amount of food they were “rescuing”. In one month alone, they rescued $1,127 worth of food and had only spent $33. They opened their home to friends who wanted to do some grocery shopping because they had too much food. The friendly shopper left with two bags full of food and he could not believe it had all been found in the dumpster. Rustemeyer says that when she tells people about the challenge, she gets funny looks in return. People believe that she is dumpster diving and eating scraps of food. This is not the case at all. The majority of the food is well packaged, clean and still good to use. It got to the point where it was hard for them to keep track of how much they were rescuing.
Not only is the amount of food we waste a huge issue but the amount of resources we use producing the food is also wasted in the end. When we look at the Earth from the sky, what do we see? Fields. The majority of food we waste is sent to a landfill. The food hierarchy should be 1- Feeding People 2- Feeding animals and livestock 3- Creating Energy from it and lastly, 4- Incinerating it, putting it in Landfills etc. In reality, this is flipped around and in the U.S alone, 97% of all food waste goes to the landfill and incinerator.
Gunders spoke of a time she went to a BBQ and there were several leftover hamburgers. For each of those burgers, it would take the equivalent of a 90 minute shower worth of water to produce just ONE patty. Seven miles from the heart of Las Vegas is RC Farms, run by Bob Combs since 1963. He receives 30 tonnes per day of wasted and leftover food which he boils and uses to feed the 2,500 swine his farm holds. “RC Farms rescues just 8% of the food waste from the Vegas strip and feeds 2,500 swine”.
RC Farms is just one example of what can be done with all of the extra food waste. There are also several food banks, such as Quest Foods, which helps those in need. Ken March who runs Quest foods says that this one food bank alone saves $4 Million per year in wasted food. March had worked in the packaging industry for almost 30 years and he had worked in a warehouse that was 1 Million square feet and he doesn’t even want to think about how much food had been wasted during the time he worked there. Dumping food is simple economics and we need to become more aware about it as an issue as a whole and while not focusing solely on the financial aspect of it. Some farmers see how much of their food will eventually go into a landfill and it is disheartening. Therefore they allow people to glean. Gleaning is “the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.” Towards the beginning of the film, a farmer demonstrates what is done to the celery he grows. The majority of the celery is cut off to get the heart and it is cut to fit the store bags. There is 2 pounds of leftover celery which is perfectly good to eat and this is only ONE celery. Imagine how much is wasted for the entire crop.
During the challenge, when the couple had 2 months and 4 days left, Baldwin weighed himself. He had gained ten pounds which he contributes to eating more processed food and stuffing himself. If he didn’t eat the food that was going to expire first, it would be like it was going to go to waste for the second time.
“What we need is to believe that wasting food is not acceptable.”
What can we do to help limit the amount of food waste we produce?
Plan out your meals and make a detailed shopping list.
If you do one huge haul, stick to what you have on your list. If you rather do smaller shopping trips more frequently, buy only what needs to be replenished.
Almost everything can be frozen, which saves leftovers for later use and keeps food good and safe to eat.
When you go shopping, choose the food that is going to expire the soonest. It is still good to eat.
Do research on how long ingredients can actually last after their expiry date. Keep in mind- it is only for quality purposes; not safety.
At the end of the challenge, Baldwin and Rustemeyer say that now when they prepare food, they first look at what they have and not what they are in the mood for. They have a new found value of food and that just by being aware of this issue, you almost automatically make a difference because you are more conscientious about your shopping habits. Baldwin has found a new passion for cooking and makes recipes that use the food that they already have rather than going out because they are missing a component. In the 6 months of the challenge, they rescued $20,000 worth of food and spent less than $200 on groceries.
Overall, I loved this documentary and I would suggest that everyone watches it. I will not be shopping the way I used to and I don’t think I will look at the food in my pantry the same way again. I will be doing more research on the situation in Montreal and will be looking into local food banks to see what can be done to help.
To find out more about the documentary and to watch it (for free if you’re a Canadian citizen), go to the official site here.
If you want to see their Facebook page, go here.