'Taste The Waste': Dumpster-Diving For Free, Edible Food

The statistics seem too ludicrous to get your head around:

  • more than a billion tons of edible food are thrown away annually.
  • per capita edible food waste has increased by 50% since 1974.
  • discarded fresh food transforms itself into a significant source of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

But try to picture this:

The amount of food Americans waste each year is roughy equal to filling a 90,000 seat football stadium to the brim with fresh food at least once every day. That's according to Jonathan Bloom, creator of WastedFood.com and author of the 2010 book American Wasteland.

This, while half the world goes to bed hungry every night.

How can this happen?

German film maker Valentin Thurn addresses the question in a prize-winning documentary TASTE THE WASTE (www.tastethewaste.com), and finds that food waste is growing unchecked annually in quantum proportions because there is profit to be made -- all based on cosmetic principles. If produce, poultry and meat don't measure up to arbitrary standards of color, size, proportion, the dumpster awaits. These criteria have nothing to do with freshness or nutritious value. A scene in TASTE THE WASTE shows a selection of just-harvested cucumbers being rejected because they are too awkwardly shaped to fit into their cartons. This "refuse" won't even be fed to swine, it will simply be dumped -- left to accelerate methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food. On the one hand the scene is hilarious, on the other it is obscene. Such waste is also ultimately deadly.

TASTE THE WASTE is so apt a title that I am purloining it as the rubric for a group of episodes I am writing and producing for PIX11 MORNING NEWS. In the first episode, which can be seen on this page, I'm dealing with a loosely organized band of people around the world known as dumpster divers. They go foraging for food, usually in the dark of night, rummaging through dumpsters, trash cans and plastic bags. On the evening we caught up with them, one of their organizers told us, they probably bagged a couple thousand dollars worth of fruits, vegetables and baked goods during a foray through four square blocks in Brooklyn Heights.

The topic of food waste is so vast and becoming so insidious that no series of reports could expeditiously outline its scope and depth. It is every bit as alarming as the European Debt Crisis and potentially more catastrophic: everybody must have food, no matter what currency they use to buy it. Making it needlessly beyond the means of billions of people because of greed could lead to the unthinkable. Making so much food inaccessible to everyone could lead to the unimaginable.

Don't miss Valentin Thurn's documentary TASTE THE WASTE. It is available online via the usual vendors.

My thanks to the management of PIX11 News for letting me take a stab at scratching the surface.



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