If you’re looking to be surprised by a film at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, look no further than Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, directed by Anna Chai and Nari Kye, a palatable documentary about food waste that contains more than a few surprising facts. Executive produced by author, chef and globetrotter Anthony Bourdain, Wasted! reveals that every year 1.3 billion tons of food is thrown out. Annually, 80% of the world’s water, 40% of the world’s land, and 10% of the world’s energy goes toward food production, and yet every year, a third of all food grown around the world goes wasted.
For the directors, their awareness of this global issue stems from their work with chefs over the years, individuals who are particularly aware of and averse to food waste. “Because we worked for a very long time with a lot of really innovative and creative chefs all over the world, we realized that some of the things that really drive them was this pursuit of reducing food waste from their lives and their businesses. It’s kind of an obsession,” Kye explained, sitting down at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio with Chai, Bourdain and chef Danny Bowien, who participated in the doc. “We realized that this was something that was really important in this world, and we decided that we wanted to highlight this kind of passion, and show consumers how they, too, could impact food waste reduction, because it’s a staggering problem that people don’t know about.”
While Bourdain had collaborated with this pair of directors before, he was initially reluctant to take on a role in the production. “I’m not an activist, and I tried really hard to stay away from any kind of activism,” Bourdain explained. “I’m a friend of uncertainty, I’m a skeptic, but food waste is something that I guess is personal, in the sense that all those years as a chef you live by an absolute rule that you should waste nothing.”
“And then I guess as a traveller for the last 16, 17 years, I see a lot of people for whom all of that food being thrown out of Whole Foods could mean the difference between life and death,” he continued. “It was an opportunity to indulge or investigate something that I guess just pisses me off, personally.”
For Chai and Kye, what was heartening in the making of the documentary was the realization that there are not only many people already working to combat the issues at hand, but that there are many solutions to be found, with other nations already beginning to advance the conversation. “It was a U.N. sustainable [development] goal that they wanted to reduce food waste by 2030, so it was something that on a policy level, they thought was doable,” Chai said. “The Environmental Protection Agency has this hierarchy, in terms of how you should be handling food waste, and so we’re like, ‘Oh, what is this person doing? Or what is this organization doing? Look what they’re doing in Korea, look what they’re doing in Japan.’” In the end, there were “literally dozens” more organizations and groups working toward a more sustainable food system that the documentarians weren’t able to spotlight, for lack of time.
“I grew up of a generation that thought chickens had no bones—chicken came [as] a fluffy white breast, wrapped in plastic. For many years as a chef, if you served a fish with the head on, people would freak out. That’s changing,” Bourdain shared, commenting on a consumer perspective that has been problematic in the past. “We’ve managed to make the argument that fish is actually better served whole, on the bone. It’s much more delicious, and it’s worth the extra effort to tunnel out all the good bits.”
“It’s not just that we’re lazy and throwing stuff out for aesthetic reasons—we’re often throwing the best stuff out, and it’s worth the extra effort. The notion that all tomatoes should be perfect and beautiful is hideous,” he added. “A not particularly pretty looking tomato is an opportunity, first to get it cheaper, and secondly, to make something out of it. If we start thinking of things in more of a European or Asian way when we do our shopping, and demanding that our markets respond, maybe we’ll get somewhere.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with the Wasted! team, click above. Upcoming screenings of the doc can be found here.