We are living in the era of peak food interest. There has never been more curiosity about what we’re eating, where it comes from, and how it’s grown. But why does it stop there? A new documentary called “WASTED! The Story of Food Waste” makes a compelling case for why people should be just as concerned with what happens after, exploring the myriad causes of food waste and what can be done across the supply chain to combat it. Anthony Bourdain, who produced "WASTED!" in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and narrates and appears in the film, says, “I’ve never liked being accused of having a social conscience or being an activist, so this documentary is not something I instinctively would have become involved in, but food waste is something that I’ve always had to be conscious of as a professional. I’ve also spent the last 15 to 17 years traveling the world and seeing where all that wasted food we generate in the West could go to feed people.”
“WASTED!” presents some staggering numbers -- 1/3 of all food produced is never eaten, 10 million tons of produce go unharvested each year, over 90 percent of American food waste ends up in landfills, just to name a few -- but the directors Anna Chai and Nari Kye take a decidedly optimistic approach, focusing on the people leading the charge against food waste, from chefs and farmers to schools and grocery stores. Chai says, “We’ve seen a lot of social-issue documentaries, and you have to strike a balance between explaining how big the problem is and showing the audience that there are solutions they can be a part of. There’s actually a lot of innovative work being done by people for a variety of motivations, whether environmental, financial, or moral, so it was easy for us to focus on the positive.”
The film not only delves into what needs to be changed on an institutional level, but also emphasizes the importance of individual behavior. What can you do to make a dent in food waste at home? Turn to the people who have been trained to use everything and waste nothing. Bourdain says, “Learn what chefs know. The fish head is the best part of the fish. Learn how to cook it and what to do with it.” Chef Danny Bowien, of Mission Chinese Food fame, understands how challenging that can be -- he “grew up in Oklahoma eating nothing but ground beef and chicken breasts that came shrink-wrapped from the grocery store” -- but recommends “pushing yourself to be more open. Experiment with different off cuts and types of foods that people normally wouldn’t find desirable.” (He practices what he preaches; in the documentary, he travels to Japan and eats a chicken rectum with gusto.)
Eric Ripert, the celebrated chef behind Le Bernadin and a longtime supporter of New York City food rescue organization City Harvest, says, “Don’t discard vegetables or fruits because the apple isn’t perfectly round or there’s a spot on the banana. Not picking those items means they’ll be thrown out. Try not to cook large quantities of food because more often than not, it’ll just sit in the fridge and go to waste.” Fellow superstar chef Massimo Bottura, who cooks with rescued food for his nonprofit organization Food for Soul, says, “We need to change the mindset. Most people don’t realize the lifespan of a simple piece of bread. Once the bread is baked, it’s ready to be served at the table. If it’s one day old, you can make bruschetta or pappa al pomodoro. After three or four days, you can turn it into breadcrumbs and make something else delicious. You save money by not wasting food and get to dedicate a few minutes to the joy of cooking.” Watch Bottura explain this cycle in the sneak peek below and be sure to keep an eye out for this must-watch documentary!