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Dinner from the Dumpster

Jan. 28, 2010

by Emily Vaughn

No matter how sustainably produced your food purchases are, food that goes uneaten is a waste of resources and a major pollutant.  Food scraps make up nearly 13 percent of municipal waste in the US. That percentage includes discarded trimmings like carrot peels and apple cores, but the bulk consists of surplus or aesthetically imperfect items from food service providers. Organic material like food waste produces methane as it decomposes in landfills: a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.  What’s a conscientious consumer to do? 

One solution is to reclaim discarded food from the dumpster.  The new documentary, Dive!: Living off America’s Waste by newcomer director Jeremy Seifert follows a lighthearted a group of bearded, freegan friends as they rifle through the trash bins of LA’s big-box grocery stores, and rattle off the code of containering (eg. “Never take more than you need”). One dive’s haul includes plastic cartons of blueberries, presumably thrown out because a handful of berries were bruised or moldy.  The next morning the director’s towheaded toddler grins with a mouthful of blueberry pancakes as he explains the meal’s origin to the camera. 

But after a few dives that reveal the extent of the food available for scavenging, the film matures from a youthful how-to into a serious examination of the industrial and corporate practices that make dumpster diving possible.  In a pivotal scene with cleverly balanced gravity and cheek, Seifert does some quick math—written out on a driveway in freecylced Reddi-wip—to show that reclaiming just one percent of the food thrown out in LA County would more than triple the food deficit of its food banks.

The focus then shifts to getting grocery stores to step-up their donation programs, and inspiring citizens to make it happen.  The film closes with a quote from Noam Chomsky, “Change and progress very rarely are gifts from above—they come out of struggles from below.Ԡ And it looks like the dumpster is the new battleground.

Dive! is screening at several west coast film festivals in coming months. You can also set up a screening in your area or purchase a copy online for $10.
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