Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

Let’s start today with a little quiz…

How much of US wasted food ends up in landfills?
  1. 10%
  2. 20%
  3. 50%
  4. 75%
  5. 90%
How many years does it take for a head of lettuce to decompose in a landfill?
  1. 1 week
  2. 1 month
  3. 6 months
  4. 1 year
  5. 25 years
When food decomposes in a landfill it creates methane. How much worse is methane as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide?
  1. Two times worse
  2. Five times worse
  3. Ten times worse
  4. Fifteen times worse
  5. Twenty-three times worse

If you guessed (e) for each question then, sadly, you are correct.

These statistics, and many others like them, came from a documentary called “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”. My local environmental center hosted a showing of this film recently. This is the same environmental center that organized the Rethink Food Waste Challenge which I took part in a few months ago. Since I had learned so much about food waste during the challenge, I was curious to see what else I would discover from this documentary, and I was not disappointed!

EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy

EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy

The film features many well-known chefs like the late Anthony Bourdain, and Mario Batali.

It uses the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to explore how food waste can either be prevented or reused in other ways.

While a lot of the statistics are grim, the documentary does a great job of highlighting success stories in each of the hierarchy levels, as well as suggesting ways that we can make a difference.

Source Reduction

The first step is to reduce how much food is wasted. According to the film about 10 million tons of produce goes unharvested every year, so farmers need to be growing the right food in the first place.

Then there are the supermarkets who overstock their shelves to fool us into buying more. As a result, the grocery stores expect to throw away about 30% of their produce.

The film also challenges how we waste food. The chef Dan Barber talks about how his restaurant creates delicious dishes from things that we usually reject. Until I saw this documentary, I had no idea that about 60% of a cauliflower is leaves which are totally edible, but we throw them away!

The amount of seafood that is wasted also shocked me. Apparently, for every pound of shrimp caught, up to 6 pounds of other species are caught and then thrown away. Some chefs are trying to bring the less popular seafood to our tables. I did smile at the story that Chilean Sea Bass only became popular once it was renamed from “toothfish”!

What can you do?

  • Plan meals ahead of time & shop with a list

  • Use more of the food that you buy – for example broccoli stems can be chopped up and added to soups, carrot tops can be turned into pesto, etc.

  • Store Food Properly

  • Use Leftovers

Feed Hungry People

If there is waste food, then a great way to use it would be to feed the hungry. The film talks about the recent law in France which means that French supermarkets can be fined if they don’t donate their waste food to charities. And then there is the Italian chef Massimo Bottura, whose non-profit organization Food for Soul created the wonderful Refettorio Ambrosiano. This is a soup kitchen that was initially created to repurpose food waste from the 2015 Milan World Expo. It has been so successful that it is still going today and has setup additional versions in Paris, London and Rio.

What can you do?

  • Encourage your local grocery store to donate their food.

Feed Animals

If it can’t be fed to humans, then the next best thing is to feed excess food to animals. To illustrate how it can be done, the film takes us to Japan which has a Food Recycling Law that encourages the reuse of waste food into animal feed. Chef Danny Bowien visits a pig farm that saves money by feeding their pigs the recycled “Eco-feed”. Not only does it save money but they raise healthier animals which produce better tasting meat. Definitely a win-win-win!

Industrial uses

The documentary also highlights the work that some companies are doing to combat food waste.

A great example is General Mills. Instead of wasting the leftover whey from the manufacture of their Yoplait Greek yogurt, they use it to create electricity and heating. Not only does it help the environment, it also saves them about $2.4 million per year! Check out this little clip from the film to find out more.

What can you do?

  • Support food companies and restaurants that are trying to reduce or reuse food waste. If you’re a beer drinker then check out Toast Ale, another company featured in the documentary, who use waste bread to brew award-winning beer.


The last stop before the landfill is composting, and the film shows how an elementary school in New Orleans is composting their leftover food. Not only does it stop the wasted food from going to the landfill, the children also learn more about gardening and growing their own food

What can you do?

Overall this is an excellent documentary and, although it’s only 85 minutes long, it packs in a lot of information - I’ve only covered a fraction of what’s in it.

“Wasted” takes what could be a very gloomy topic that seems hopeless, and presents real, innovative and practical solutions.. As Tristram Stuart says in the trailer below: “Tackling food waste doesn’t need to be depressing, it’s delicious”!

If you are at all interested in food, then I strongly recommend this documentary - especially during the holidays and Christmas when we are tempted to indulge to excess! The film is available on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play, or you could be more frugal and check if your local library has a copy!

Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite!

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