On Monday, TRJFP teamed up with the Wave Machine for a screening of Just Eat It: a food waste movie at the Old School Cafe. The Wavers are linked to Take One Action film festival and thus a perfect partner in helping us take action on food waste. As ever, we also provided Pay As You Feel food but this was an event unlike any we have done before, attracting lots of new faces, whom we hoped to inspire into tackling the issue with us.
The film is made by Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer, a Canadian couple who challenged themselves to live on wasted food for six months, and is a comprehensive and brilliantly crafted indictment of industrial food systems. The pair are astonished by the volumes of food not being eaten, huge stocks of edible products with misprinted packaging, or with no space on the shelf. The film addresses our individual weaknesses too, with a telling feature on an organic farmer who overstocks his market stall and overproduces courgettes to meet demand and to sell more.
“It doesn’t really matter how sustainable the food is if you throw it out”
Comparisons are made between previous generations’ caution around food waste and our attitude within an abundance of choice, and experts are interviewed to broaden the perspective: from gleaning, to dates on packaging, to the environmental aspects of food waste. Indeed, each makes powerful statements about the effects of our wastefulness, describing it as “the last environmental ill you can still get away with” and “one of the most gratuitous aspects of human culture”.
For Jen, who joined us on Skype after the screening, whether or not the food is produced in a sustainable way has little relevance to the issue of waste: “It doesn’t really matter how sustainable the food is if you throw it out,” she suggested, highlighting waste as the key issue “no-one is talking about”. She came to this film project from a waste perspective, but now that she goes to a lot of food events, she realises organic, local food dominates conversations and she is “the only one talking about waste”.
Where Jen agreed there was more tension is around food poverty. It was great to hear her argue, as we do, that ‘wasted’ food should feed anyone and everyone, not just those who ‘need it most’. It is important to avoid falling into that trap but it is also important to realise, Jen said, that while there is surplus food and there are hungry people, our priority is to feed that food to those people before we start to question the existence of surplus in the first place.
At TRJFP, we are strong doubters of the role of supermarkets in genuinely addressing food waste; Jen is less skeptical. ‘Dumpster diving’ is not the answer, she said, and they more or less stopped doing that after filming; but supermarkets are there and they are creating surplus, and working with them to increase distribution potential is important. The film highlights Quest, an organisation in Canada with shops selling intercepted surplus at a heavily discounted price, and offering vouchers in return for volunteer hours, as a more equitable response to poverty than food banks. The model is beginning to appear in the UK and, along with groups like FareShare, offers a good counterpoint to TRJFP and others.
We asked Jen why she and Grant chose to make a film. Apart from the fact that they love and are very good at making films, obviously, she pointed out that “filming yourselves gives you unlimited access” and is very revealing as a result. She added that people are more likely to have the attention span to watch a film than read a book (“maybe we should have made a five minute film…”), but it also gives people the opportunity to run events like this one, to “build community”.
The key question, though, was surely: what can we do as that community? Stop being embarrassed about food waste, was the gist of Jen’s response. For example, she now makes sure to take home leftovers when she goes to a catered event; she “can get away with it”, she points out, but for others it is still seen as not the done thing. We need to “normalise” eating leftovers, surplus. In the film, Jen refutes the suggestion of a colleague that having “just enough food” at a dinner party would be embarrassing: “I think that would be awesome!” she contends.
Just Eat It, despite its apocalyptic undertones, is a film that rejoices in food. It seems we are in agreement with Jen that this sort of celebration is the best we can do. And it can be very, very powerful.
We are hoping to run more film nights after the success of this one – get in touch if you have any suggestions!