Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dive! The Film - Living Off America's Waste

In this documentary, Jeremy Seifert takes a close look at our society’s shameful habit of wasting 1/2 the food we produce. Following a group of L.A. Freegans, we see the astonishing amount of food that’s thrown into supermarket dumpsters every night. This food is salvaged to feed their family and friends as well as provide donations to organizations working with the poor. Their efforts are noble, but dumpster diving is inevitably dependent on the inefficient capitalist system that allows so much unnecessary waste. So the question we are left with is: how do we become a society with empty dumpsters?

Jeremy questions why more excess food isn’t transported directly to those who need it most. His persistent attempts to get answers from supermarket officials go unanswered. Although the Trader Joe’s website claimed they prefer to speak with people face-to-face (their FAQ section has since been changed), not a single person was willing to discuss the tremendous amount of good food found in their dumpsters.

Screen Shot from Film

 I was astonished by this lack of transparency from a company that provides a considerable amount of information about the products on their shelves. When Trader Joe’s finally acknowledged Jeremy’s letter-a-day the response was very defensive, stating, “TJ’s stores across the country donate food that they feel is safe to eat 7 days a week.” The question becomes, how and why is certain food deemed ‘unsafe’ when it’s sustained a community of people for years without causing illness? It’s likely that these standards are somewhat arbitrary, and the real issue is laziness. It’s easier for food stores to send unsold products to landfills than to carefully sift through goods and salvage all that is truly safe for consumption. By the same token, if purchasing food is within ones means, it’s easy to turn a blind eye while this issue persists.
         Gleaning food definitely presents logistical challenges. The hard work of dumpster diving was written all over the exasperated face of Jeremy’s wife. Though she appreciates the literal fruits of his labor, she admits to dreading the mornings when the kitchen is filled with food that needs to be sifted through and washed. Surprisingly enough, the work involved for Jeremy to recover more food for more people was far less taxing. In this instance, he called one Trader Joe’s store directly and asked to take their excess food after New Years Eve. The store agreed, allowing Jeremy to come through the front door and pick up 6 shopping carts worth of food, which he then donated to the Salvation Army.

With one simple call, Jeremy found a sweet spot between corporate donations and lone dumpster divers where the most productive gleaning was possible. The objective now is to broaden that space for effective action. Why this single store was willing to open their doors and reduce food waste while the corporate head quarters refused to even speak on the matter is a mystery. Nevertheless, Jeremy’s collaboration with this store is a seed of hope for the future without food waste. A future in which executives let down their guards, acknowledge the problem and use their influence to make large scale changes. A future where gleaners aren’t forced to use subversive tactics to do something just. The secret is already out – a lot of good food is feeding landfills instead of hungry people. Jeremy’s success in this instance is admirable, but it is still a band-aid solution for a broken system. The more people willing to engage in this conversation on various levels of the food system, the greater chance there is of becoming a society with empty dumpsters.

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