Documentary Review: Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

Anyone who eats should watch this film

Anthony Bourdain’s documentary, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, became available online and in select theaters last weekend. I watched it and I loved it. It features Bourdain, along with renowned chefs Dan Barber, Mario Battali, Massimo Bottura and Danny Bowien. View the trailer below.

The documentary starts off with the horrifying statistics on food waste:

  • 1/3 of all food produced is never eaten
  • Over 90% of wasted food in the US ends up in landfills
  • The annual cost of food waste is 1 trillion dollars
  • Food production is the single biggest cause of deforestation, the single biggest cause of water extraction, the single biggest cause of habitat loss and biodiversity loss
  • 800 million people are starving
  • 1.3 billions tons of food is wasted every year

We do not need to produce more. We need to act different. ~ Chef Massimo Bottura

The film breaks down food into a hierarchy of consumption and offers various solutions at each level—solutions that will inspire you, rather than depress.

1. Feed people first

Before talking about other solutions to deal with excess food after the fact, food waste prevention must come first. Every link in the food system needs to take part, from farms that have to leave their “ugly” produce in the fields, to the supermarkets that won’t take that produce, to restaurants that serve too much food, to consumers forsaking their common sense—and noses—to determine if their food has gone off.

In the film, chef Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate, says, “My first job as a chef is to cook tasty food.” He does so while using up everything. He goes on to say that we use all parts of the animal out of respect for that animal but we rarely do the same for a farm or a landscape. We grow cauliflower, for example—about 60 percent leaves—take the parts we want and toss the rest. He and his chefs use rejects—stems, leaves, immature zucchini—to create exciting dishes. (My mouth watered constantly watching this documentary.)

2. If excess food cannot feed people, feed it to animals

Chef Danny Bowien travels to Japan where the country has passed a food recycling law that diverts food waste from landfill to farms for animal feed. The pig farm featured in the documentary feeds its pigs Eco-feed, a brand of animal feed made from food waste, and in doing so, saves 50 percent on the cost of traditional feed. According to food-waste expert Tristram Stuart, feed accounts for 30 percent of the cost of running a farm. Eco-feed is probiotic, so these pigs consume good bacteria—not antibiotics—to stay healthy.

3. Convert food unfit for animals to energy

While we should avoid creating food waste in the first place, in reality, we do create it. So let’s use it wisely. The film features a yogurt factory that converts whey from Greek yogurt production into energy. “You can do that?!” you may ask. Cut off of oxygen in an anaerobic digester, anaerobic bacteria break down food and produce methane gas as a byproduct. The closed digester captures this methane gas and coverts it to energy. In the yogurt plant, this energy powers the filling and packaging machinery and saves the company $2.4 million a year.

4. Lastly, food waste can be composted

The documentary features a New Orleans elementary school that composts and grows food in the schoolyard garden. The teacher in charge of the garden said that before they started growing food, the kids ate chips, candy, soda… “They snacked horribly.” But, he said, when you give a child a seed and they plant it and tend that plant, they take responsibility for it—and then they eat it. The kids collect compost in buckets at lunch and the older ones eagerly add it to the compost heap outside, returning nutrients to the soil. Healthy soil makes healthy food—and healthy kids.

5. Food waste should NEVER go to landfill

Remember the methane digester in level 3? In a landfill, food breaks down the same way—but the methane escapes. Compacted in a landfill, food lacks exposure and so breaks down anaerobically, producing methane gas. Landfills emit this methane gas into the atmosphere. In the film, Tristram Stuart says methane gas is 23 times more potent that CO2. I have read much higher numbers.

South Korea set up a revolutionary system that weighs people’s food waste and sends them a bill at the end of the month for its disposal. Set up recently in 2013, the system has already nearly eliminated all landfill-bound food waste.

What we can do

At the end of the documentary, we hear more solutions, this time at the consumer level.

I don’t want to give the whole film away, and truly, I have only scratched the surface here. I took WAY more notes than I’ve shared here. In less than 90 minutes, these documentary filmmakers have crammed in a pile of information, uplifting stories and solutions to the food waste problem.

I watched Wasted! streaming on Amazon.

Be sure you make yourself a snack before watching. Enjoy!

My book won silver for single-subject cookbooks at the Taste Canada awards!

I’ve also won a second-place Gourmand cookbook award in the category of food waste. And my book was shortlisted for an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Learn more about my book here.

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17 Replies to “Documentary Review: Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”

  1. I have a wonderful box of imperfect produce delivered every two weeks in the Bay area. I receive an email and order my produce on Monday and receive it on Saturday. These fruits and veggies have odd shapes, but the quality is always fine.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Irene, I have friends who also get that box. They love it and they save money too. Thanks for mentioning Imperfect. ~ Anne Marie

  2. Terrific post! But I have must object to your comment about being sure to “make a snack“ before watching! Snacking is killing us. If everyone went back to three meals a day, no snacks—that change alone would have a huge impact on the obesity epidemic and the problem we’re facing with insulin resistance, which is causing so many health problems now. The body needs time between meals to do its work.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      You make a good point. Maybe I should have written, “Make sure you’ve eaten dinner before you watch.” 😉

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I must check out the documentary. I don’t love Bourdain (I think he’s entertaining but also egotistical and has a negative attitude to vegetarians) but I’m glad he’s taken the time to do this!

  4. Thank you for highlighting this film (I got hungry just watching the trailer!). Here in the UK, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall did a good series on waste, and trying to get supermarkets to sell ‘ugly veg’. I also came across a Community Fridge at the weekend: drop off your unwanted food and/or help yourself to what’s in the fridge 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing, an informative guide.
    Have a nice day!
    Amanda ||

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      My pleasure, Amanda! Thanks for your kind words. Have a great weekend. ~ Anne Marie

  6. What a wonderful post. There’s no such thing as food waste here in this house.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you so much. Good for you. Stopping it at home is so important yet also so doable!

  7. Thanks for the post. It is a horrible fact that in a developing country like India too we can see these type of ‘crime’ where one part of total population still belongs to below poverty level.

  8. Loved the spoiler in the pic!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Ooops, I didn’t realize it’s a spoiler, but you’re right. Well, glad you liked it 🙂

  9. fivespicesforlife says: Reply

    I love the trailer! The statistics are a little scary, however,no real surprise. I liked how the chefs use every plant component and I will have to start eating more stems and leaves and I can even juice these.

    Why don’t more countries follow Japans lead and divert out used food waste to pigs.

    Composting is the best way to reuse our waste, anybody can get a compost bin whether you live in a small apartment or a farm. it is easy and everyone should compost and I agree, food waste should never be sent to landfill.

    In the part on what can we do, they should add grow your own fruit, nuts and vegetables.

    Thank you for your post and the video trailer. Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year. Lee.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Lee,

      I do like Anthony Bourdain. He’s very entertaining. I was really shocked when I first heard how much food we waste. It’s crazy! I hope more countries will follow Japan’s lead. That’s just what farmers used to do. Great point about growing your own. I think when you grow your own, you won’t waste it. You understand how precious food is.

      Thanks for reading my post and comment. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  10. […] Composting is not only a great way to feed your garden on the cheap, it’s also a critically important way to divert organic matter from the landfill where it often doesn’t decompose. (If you’re curious to learn more about the US’s food waste issues, be sure to check out the Wasted documentary.) […]

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