Wednesday, March 7, 2012

TASTE THE WASTE - Documentary by Valentin Thurn - Commentary by Ana Elsner

Are you aware of the fact, that on its way from the farm, the dairy, the river or the ocean to your dinner plate more than half of all food gets discarded and destroyed?

We are talking about perfectly edible food that gets pulled off supermarket shelves, some of it still in the original packaging with the 'best before'/'sell by' date not yet expired! The store can no longer make a profit on it. So it lands in the trash.

On top of that, twice again as much is rejected immediately on fields and in factories, based on standards that are enforced by distributors and retailers catering to the demands of consumers for perfection and ultra-freshness of groceries: One withered leaf on a head of lettuce, a crack in a potato or a dent in an apple and the goods are sorted out and thrown away.

The wastage amounts to around 100 pounds per household each year in Europe and the US. Disposal of this waste is costly.
Furthermore it negatively impacts the environment as the byproduct of decomposition of food matter is methane, a gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere.

Ana Elsner made this comment, "We live in a time of excess and it must be admitted that all of us spoiled consumers share responsibility for and share complicity in this global food scandal. Why? Because, let's face it, would you pick up and pay for the apple that has a dent in it, or would you rather go through the pile and select the most perfect ones...? And how many of us pull our carton of milk, tub of yoghurt or hamburger meat from the very back of the cooler to get at the freshest batch? It never occurs to us that, not only do we pay for the other hundreds of apples and tons of meat that go to waste, but that we also keep them from ever reaching the mouths of thousands of people worldwide who are malnourished.
Wastage of foodstuffs leads to ever increasing prices. As a result more and more people can afford less and less food. Look around and you will see that need and privation are on the rise not just in far away countries, but right here in our own cities and communities. This has got to stop and we must play a part in stopping it.

Many countries don't have the slightest idea how much is wasted. Britain made an effort to count the waste pile and came to a staggering 15 million tons of food every year. That means: 484 million unopened yoghurt pots each year, 1.6 billion untouched apples and 2.6 billion slices of bread for an annual retail value of 14 billion pounds. At the same time, 4 million people in the UK do not have access to a healthy and balanced diet. In other countries, statistics are tabulated mainly by independent researchers and non-governmental agencies, with some staggering results: In Italy, about 20,290,767 tons of food waste is accrued along the supply chain each year. The combined food waste of all Danish households is equivalent to 2,93 billion US Dollars. (An average Danish family with 2 adults and 2 children wastes food in the amount of 1,872 US Dollars a year.) A recent report published by ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, states that every year each French citizen throws away 7 kilos of food still in the original packaging.
It is estimated that each ton of food waste releases, from its production to its disposal, 4,2 tons of toxic carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere.

Valentin Thurn's documentary TASTE THE WASTE takes us into the personal world of the people who are desperately trying to stop this needless waste: Hanna Poddig, eco activist from Berlin, Romuald Bokej, dumpster diver from Stockholm, Ahmadou Biyah, garbage collector in Paris and Sarah Wiener, celebrity chef from Austria offer us the small scale examples of the bigger struggle.

TASTE THE WASTE - The Trailer:

Tip: Click on the four-arrows-icon next to the volume control bar to expand video to full screen.


The documentary TASTE THE WASTE (Frisch auf den Müll - Die globale Lebensmittelverschwendung) by Valentin Thurn, a timely and startling expose on worldwide destruction of food and its consequences, filmed in various countries and locations, had its San Francisco Premiere at the SF Green Film Festival on March 6, 2012. The screening was co-presented by the Goethe-Institute. Among the enthusiastic audience was international poet and activist Ana Elsner, who said in an interview with this journal:

"We can no longer plead ignorance. We must face the reality of having set in place a global food production and distribution system that is tightly controlled by special for-profit interests who promote massive and unconscionable waste. The disposal and decomposition of these mountains of wasted food threatens our already fragile eco-system. The German word for groceries is Lebensmittel - 'Means for [sustaining] life'. This definition of purpose is being bastardized and re-interpreted as 'Means for [making] profit'.
In a capitalist society one would expect that commerce in consumer goods is profit-driven. However, when it comes to food, which is the essential and existential pre-requisite for human survival, and when it comes to the distribution and attainability of food, applying the methods of exploitation and discrimination is scandalous, punitive and bordering on criminal (as in crimes against humanity). Making food unavailable or unattainable, by any motivation or any means (such as destroying it), amounts to condemning people to death by starvation. Who would directly or indirectly act as judge over who lives and who dies?"

Ana Elsner continues her commentary on the global food scandal:

"Responsibility filters down to the basis of corporate decision-making processes. Consumer behavior is this basis. If you are a customer at supermarket chain stores, that means: You.
If you do not turn a blind eye to this global food scandal, if you acknowledge that by shopping at these establishments you condone the perpetuation of food wasting, if you want to take personal responsibility, then you can be the start of a movement for change. Then you can inspire others to follow your example."

What you can do: Raising awareness - Tips from Ana Elsner

*Go into your local supermarket chain store. (You don't have to buy anything...) Ask to speak to the store manager. Ask him / her what they do with the food products they pull off their shelves. Ask if they are, or will consider, donating their discarded groceries to food banks or local organizations that feed the homeless. Then go into the next supermarket chain store and repeat this action until you have covered all the grocery stores in your greater area. Important: Ask your friends to do the same!
What this will accomplish: You might not be able to change the store's policies right away. But the store manager will report to his superiors that his customers raised this issue. If enough shoppers bring this matter up, management will have to pay attention.*

*Volunteer at a soup-kitchen to see for yourself what hunger looks like.*

*For city dwellers: Join an urban vegetable-garden project.*

What you can do: Changing your eating behavior - Tips from Ana Elsner

*Check portion size and know how much to cook at a time: Those sad looking left-overs will most likely never get eaten and end up in the trash.*

*Cut down on your consumption of highly processed foods. They contain additives like: artificial sweeteners; high levels of sodium; starches, fillers and texturizers; monosodium glutamate; nitrates, nitrites and sulfites; high amounts of saturated fats; artificial flavors; food coloring and dyes; synthetic preservatives. Did you know that these chemically manipulated food items are huge money-makers for the big food conglomerates: good for their profit margin, bad for your body and your brain.*

*And some fun stuff: Try baking your own bread. Have potluck parties where everyone brings one homemade(!) dish. Grow your own tomatoes in a bucket or planter box on your deck, your balcony or even on the fire escape (as shown in the photo above).*

Ana Elsner
What you can do: Changing your shopping behavior - Tips from Ana Elsner

*When buying groceries, avoid the supermarkets altogether. If you cannot go directly to the farm to pick up your produce, then shop at your local farmers markets, where growers bring the goods to you without a middleman.*

*Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. When buying items that do not grow locally and have to be imported, try to find goods with the FairTrade label.*

*Buy only what you need and only as much as you are sure you will use up.*

*Avoid pre-packaged groceries. Production and disposal of plastic wrappings destroys the environment. Buy from bulk bins. And don't forget to bring your own bag to carry your goodies home in.*

*Don't fall prey to advertising and "special offers".*

*Ignore the temptation of lavish in-store displays or "free samples".*

Valentin Thurns zeitgemäßer und alarmierender Dokumentarfilm über die globale Nahrungsmittelverschwendung (wussten Sie, dass auf dem Weg vom Landwirtschaftsbetrieb bis auf den Esstisch mehr als die Hälfte aller Lebensmittel im Müll landen?) ist sowohl ein Aufruf zum aktiv werden, als auch ein Ratgeber, wie wir dieses bedeutende Problem am Besten beseitigen können.


Who is the commentator Ana Elsner

Ana is an independent writer and a bilingual poet. Get to know her better, look at Elsner's website.


Who is the director Valentin Thurn

Valentin Thurn, born 1963, studied geography, anthropology and political science in France and Germany, and journalism at the „Deutsche Journalistenschule“ in Munich.
He is based in Cologne and has produced more than 40 television reports and independent documentaries as a freelance filmmaker. He is the author of radio features and articles for magazines such as Die Woche, Die Zeit, Natur & Kosmos, and has won a number of journalism and film awards. His previous films include The Lord of the Wolves (2000), I Am Al Qaeda (2006), which was nominated for the German Television Prize, Not With My Daughter! (2007) and Killer Germs (2009).
Thurn co-founded the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ) and is a member of Reporters without Borders and Netzwerk Recherche (investigative reporters' network).

Interview with Valentin Thurn by Wiener Zeitung about making the film

More food for thought:

Feasting on the flesh and organs of our fellow mammals?



Anonymous said...

Simple and effective concept to donate the food rather than trashcan it. This should be implemented as a matter of course. It might also help to contact local soup kitchens so they can make their arrangements for pick-up. Will bring this up with store manager next time I go grocery shopping. Thanks for posting.
(wide awake in Seattle)

Effectivist said...

Technically, anyone who sets out any 'garbage' for pick up by the 'garbage trucks' still owns that garbage until it is actually collected by the designated and authorized garbage collection service which has been given a lucrative contract by local government agencies.

Back lots with the large containers and bins are well-lit at night and monitored by cc cameras. Dumpster-divers who venture there can be treated like looters, arrested and prosecuted. Garbage is protected. People are not. Garbage is a money making holy cow.

The store that sets out food as 'garbage' will have to make special allowances for whoever they want to donate it to. Once the store management has given permission, volunteers with vans have to do the picking up of discarded food whenever the store puts out the bins of rejected goods. They will have to go through and sort out the food that they can use to prepare the number of meals they hand out. Many soup kitchens share cooking facilities and don't have use of a big pantry or large refrigerator. So this process has to take place with some regularity.

Another source for free food: some restaurants often have leftovers that they would normally dump, but are willing to give away after closing time.