Anthony Bourdain would like to make sure you understand that he is cringing inside at the thought of championing a cause dear to “neckbeard man-buns” and other hipster assholes with an ecological axe to grind. The very thought is causing tattoo-distorting hives and a level of butt-hurt he hasn’t experienced since he ate tainted Tete de veau to the ratings-escalating joy of schaden-foodies around the world.
So just be clear: “Food waste” is not a pet cause of his because it’s a glaring, insane, totally fixable global problem that’s rapidly accelerating environmental destabilization, public health problems galore, food insecurity, poverty and hunger, and quality of life on this planet in general. (That’s Tristram Stuart’s thing and more power to him.) Tony? He’s a fuck-you-Jack aesthete like he’s always been, okay? He takes TV network money to saunter around the globe getting shitfaced and having autoerotic experiences with sushi and pork belly and that’s the deal. He’s in this Wasted documentary project because as a trained chef, he was hardwired to abhor waste, to use everything, and fuck you, Jack, if you don’t get why, but he’s going to make this one world-weary attempt to help extract your man-bun from your ass for you so you can take a look around you at the unholy fucking mess you are making with your ignorance, got it, cutie?
This waste-abhorrent foodie aesthete (born in the shadow of the Marin County granola mines and raised in spittin’ distance of the Deathstar known as Chez Panisse) does not care what has or has not motivated Mr. Bourdain, officially or unofficially. Sir, your curmudgeon creds will not be questioned here. Crank on, Cranky! The point is, unless you are Tristram Stuart or one of a small handful of really tuned in folks out there, you need to watch this documentary. It might depress you. It might scare you. But I doubt it.
Fun Fact: 90% of U.S. food waste ends up in landfills, where it creates large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that makes CO2 look like a piker.
Fun fact: None of that food waste has to end up in landfills at all. There are alternatives available to literally everyone, most of them requiring little to no effort. We are just too lazy and ignorant to extract our man-buns from our posteriors and be aware of it.
Think I’m exaggerating? South Korea, Japan, Italy and France (and other European countries) have enacted laws to prevent food waste from ending up in landfills and guess what? They work! And if you’re not hearing all the news stories about mass emigration from those countries because the food waste laws are intolerably repressive, it’s because that isn’t happening. As it turns out, it’s not even a pain in the neckbeard to do your part. It takes a little infrastructure and a little mindfulness.
Wasted follows a range of really well-chosen (because they’re well-spoken and intriguing humans) characters to follow in an exploration of our food production systems, how they’re broken, how they’re hurting us and how we’ve reached a point where there is so much pointlessly wasted food that the concept of hunger is ridiculous and yet still real. Tristram Stuart, a food activist on many fronts, has specifically taken on bread waste in the UK (whose stats are pretty much as shameful as the U.S.). He’s turning waste bread into … beer Does that sound kooky? No, it doesn’t, does it? Beer and bread were close cousins from the beginning, and the use of stale bread in beer mash only dates back to, like, ancient Egypt. Radical, huh?
Dan Barber, a completely fascinating farm-to-tableist who runs the Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley, is another front-liner in un-wasting food, and watching him evaluating crops in both the field and the kitchen not only makes you want to run out for something tasty to eat, it makes you want to run to harvest it from your windowsill or outside your back door. He looks at a cauliflower plant or a squash, notes that we discard sixty percent of the plant to harvest the florets, even though the entire thing is edible, and starts getting ideas. The documentary features razor-sharp and in some cases caustically funny food-folk (Mario Batali is in especially fine fettle) who are repurposing food waste and challenging idiotic laws. (Did you know it’s illegal for supermarkets to donate food near its expiration date to food kitchens?). Salvage food and use it, because you probably can. If you can’t feed it to humans, feed it to livestock. (In Japan, an “eco-feed” slurry made from human-food waste is malolactic-fermented, making it more stable and also probiotic, and available to pig farmers who are saving buckets of money and raising unbelievably tasty pork, for example.) If you can’t feed it to livestock, create renewable energy—anaerobic digesters can create biofuels from virtually any food waste. If you can’t do that, you can compost. In a backyard, in a community garden, on a rooftop, at a local school—there is really no one who cannot sequester food scraps from their landfill garbage and divert it to a compost pile. (There’s a lovely segment of the film showing school children in post-Katrina New Orleans learning composting fundamentals and growing food at school—and it turns out that kids who grow radishes and collards will eat them even if they wouldn’t touch the same things from a supermarket.)
Some environmental issues seem politically blockaded to the point of hopelessness, or insurmountable for any number of reasons. This documentary is incredibly compelling evidence that we’re looking at an absolutely crazy exception and the main reason we haven’t conquered it is that people are just plain not paying attention.
And, as this movie clearly illustrates, people need to pay attention. Sequestering your biodegradable garbage is a no-brainer, and re-orienting ourselves away from waste-culture is a shockingly obvious-yet-underutilized pathway to better environmental conditions, better food security, better support for the undernourished and more money in our pockets. This film may actually make you care about it, and not by way of sanctimony or self-righteousness or fist-pounding or garbage-shaming—Wasted is super optimistic, full of fantastic food-porn, and oftentimes hilarious. I was getting itchy myself before it was over, not because I was uncomfortable or bored but because I was excited to remember it might not be too late to plant winter crops in my small suburban backyard.
Chefs and poets have something huge in common: we intuitively understand constraint provides opportunity in a way that total freedom actually doesn’t. Let’s say it was illegal and punishable to throw food away. What would you do differently? You’d find new ways to make things taste good, last longer, stretch farther. You’d probably share them more, with your neighbors or a food bank or a soup kitchen or a church or a shelter. You might learn a skill, like canning or baking or pickling, and discover it makes everyone in your family healthier. You’d spend a lot less money. And you’d prolong your own life and the life of this world. What sane reason is there to not prefer that?
Wasted premiered in theaters and on demand Friday, October 13. Please watch it.
Directors: Nari Kye and Anna Chai
Starring: Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura, Anthony Bourdain
Release Date: October 13, 2017