Food For Thought
Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert’s Dive! Living Off America’s Waste.
But the act of dumpster diving and eating out of the trash soon changed the way Seifert thought about food. “When you take filet mignon, baby broccoli, and potatoes out of the garbage and eat it—and it tastes damned good and it nourishes you—you begin to think about food waste in a deeper, more personal way,” he says.
Seifert began researching the problem and questioning store managers about why they were throwing away food instead of donating it to food banks? He discovered that select stores did donate on a limited basis, but with few exceptions (Albertsons’ Fresh Rescue Program, for example), the problem of food waste was being ignored at the corporate level.
Asked why so much food is tossed out, Seifert has a ready answer. “Waste is a natural byproduct of our excess. Throwing away food is a bad habit many of us don’t even think about,” he begins, noting that most people are ignorant about the vast resources devoted to producing food, and indifferent to the ecological impact. “If we were to cut our food losses in half, we would probably reduce our pollution rate by about 10 percent,” says Timothy Jones, former head of the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona, during a phone interview aired in Dive!
But for most grocery stores, the decision to discard food can be attributed to a combination of economics and convenience. “It’s easier—and maybe even cheaper—to just throw it away, instead of organizing with a food bank and setting it aside and keeping it cold until someone comes with a truck,” contends Seifert.
Some stores also express concern about liability issues arising from donating perishable food near or past its expiration date. However, that issue was addressed in 1996 when Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which was designed to “encourage the donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals.” Specifically, the Good Samaritan Act provides that donors “shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food …” except in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.