When a Canadian couple decided to live off discarded food for six months, they thought they'd be scrounging to survive. Much to their surprise, that wasn't the case.
Imagine going grocery shopping, walking out of the store with five grocery bags, and letting one spill all over the parking lot as you leave. It sounds shocking, and yet that’s what many of us do without even realizing it. North American households waste 15-20% of all the food they buy, which is even worse than the waste produced by restaurants.
An excellent new documentary called “Just Eat It” delves into the largely unknown, yet ubiquitous, world of wasted food. A couple from Vancouver, British Columbia, embarks on a six-month challenge – to survive exclusively on discarded food, which could be anything expired or already wasted.
Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin started out with low hopes, imagining that they’d be scrambling for food scraps, but they soon realized, with mixed delight and horror, that there is far more perfectly good food out there than they could ever possibly eat. In six months, they brought home more than $20,000 worth of discarded food and only spend $200.
The food came from places such as Dumpsters, culled bins at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food styling photo shoots. Boxes of chocolate bars, dozens of eggs, granola, yogurt, bags of frozen chicken and bacon, salad mixes, and cartons of juice are just a few examples of the perfectly edible items that ended up in their kitchen, often for unknown reasons. Once Grant found an entire Dumpster filled with containers of hummus that still had three weeks left on the best before date. He’ll never know why they were thrown out.
“Just Eat It” challenges our cultural obsession with abundance, of always having more than we need because we can have it. We live in a wealthy society that doesn’t have to eat leftovers, so we don’t; we pitch them instead. In fact, rich countries such as Canada and the United States have anywhere from 150 to 200% of the food that we actually need, according to food waste activist Tristram Stuart.
It is terrible that wasting food is not taboo, as it should be. When you think of how wrong it feels to toss a soda can onto the ground if there’s no trashcan nearby, why should tossing uneaten food be any different? It’s time to change that mentality and place it among the cardinal environmental sins.
Food waste is a serious problem that, fortunately, can be changed. It starts in one’s home, with meal planning and using ingredients that you already have, and it occurs in the grocery store, with consumers choosing ‘uglier’ produce and near-expired items, while demanding that supermarkets take greater responsibility for the products they sell.
“Just Eat It” has been well received at numerous film festivals across North America. It features interviews with TED lecturer, writer, and activist Tristram Stuart, author Jonathan Bloom, and author Dana Gunders who works for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food waste reduction program. The film explores various issues such as expiry dates, blemishes on produce, portion sizes, land use, and landfills to create a very compelling call to action for consumers.
Canadians can watch the whole film for free on B.C.’s Knowledge Network, here.