Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story

I watched a documentary called Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (2014). Food waste is a big deal to me and I’ll watch any documentary about it.

My biggest complaint with this particular doc is that the writers/stars are young and don’t seem to understand the WHOLE issue of food waste, only parts of it. They go on a six month journey of only eating food they can get for free (from dumpsters, etc.) or culled items (that would be thrown away) that they are allowed to buy. My issue with them is that they then turn around and get obsessive about the expiry dates on the food they get. ? A LARGE part of food waste is EXACTLY that people throw away food that is one minute past the expiry date, regardless of whether the food is still good or not.

So this couple forages in dumpsters and the food they find is astounding. Most of it is not expired and in full retail packaging, undamaged. It’s not like they are eating scraps! NOT AT ALL. The perfectly good food thrown out by groceries is mind numbing.

The documentary does have lots of interviews with people who do cover the issues of farming waste, restaurant waste, expiry date waste and overall global waste, as well as which foods use up the most resources. All these things are covered, I just didn’t like that the main story line was marred by their slavish adherence to the fictional expiry dates on the foods they foraged.

Food waste is a big deal to me. I HATE IT. I was raised by Depression era grandparents and WWII era parents, so there was not a lot of waste in our house. We had a big garden and my grandmother canned veggies every year. I grew up eating fresh veg in the summer and “put up” veg in the winter.

When I started learning about how much food is wasted just in households, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that people did not eat leftovers. I couldn’t believe that people would throw out anything that was past the Use By date – even canned goods! Food thrown out by households runs 5-25% of the food bought. !!

Then there’s retail food. Sigh. Much of the reason so much produce is wasted is because retailers have strict and specific rules about the veg they receive. Only the perfect veg/fruit is sent to retail. The average waste for farmers is 40-50%, just because the items are not perfect. You’d think that finding uses for the rest of the produce would not be hard… You’d be wrong. Only a small amount is used for animal feeds and an even smaller part is used for processed things like jam or canning. It is insane.

In addition, retailers will cull produce that is NEARING its sell by date and throw it out. They are not allowed to sell it because of “food safety”, which is 100% bullshit. It’s not about safety, it’s about IMAGE. I will say that the ethnic markets are MUCH better about selling imperfect food than big chains. This is one of my favourite images from the Korean market:

Imperfect Veg at Korean Mart

I’m glad that there is at least one ordering service that will send you ugly veg – but there needs to be more. There needs to be more organizations who glean the fields after mechanical harvesting. There needs to be more participation of retailers in giving culled food to food banks, shelters and other organizations who can put that food to use.

And finally, I implore you to examine your OWN food waste. How much food do YOU throw out? Do you eat leftovers? How often do you throw out produce that’s gone over [aka you overbought]? How often do you throw out food that is NOT bad, yet it’s past the fictional Use By date?

Just an hour ago, I made a VAT of stew from 4-5 containers of leftovers and some fresh greens. It’s a little weird, but still quite edible. NO WASTE.

As with most things, change starts with the person in the mirror.