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Food Waste and Freeganism: A Short Review of Dive

May 10, 2013

dive-the-film-dvd-coverFood represents 20 percent of the total waste in American landfills. In the United States, some 96 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year. That’s 453,257 train cars—enough to run from New York to Los Angeles and back. Approximately 40 percent of that waste comes from the household.

Addressing the massive amount of food wasted in the United States is the central focus of the film Dive: Living Off America’s Waste. Dive explores the efforts to address that waste, particularly by dumpster divers who reclaim food thrown out by grocers. The film specifically focuses on a growing movement of “divers” (I’ve also heard participants in the movement refer to themselves as “Freegans” who reclaim food thrown out by grocers.

Dive presents an interesting biopic of Jeremy Seifert and his quest to move beyond freeganism to reduce the level of wasted food overall. The film outlines the three tenants of diving:

  1. First come, first dibs.
  2. Never take more than you need.
  3. Leave the area cleaner than when you found it.

Seifert and his fellow freegans view their activities as an act of civil disobedience. Claiming food from dumpsters is falls in a legally grey area. Participants could be charged with trespassing or potentially breaking and entering if they climb over locked gates as we see in one scene. In that scene, police arrive to find several freegans going through waste behind a grocer. The police ask them to clean up and move on, which they do to avoid arrest. The exchange is friendly, but one could easily imagine a different exchange if those going through the waste were homeless or minorities.

By the end of the film, Seifert is attempting to convince grocers to donate food about to be thrown out to a local soup kitchen.

I found Dive to be an engaging film that effectively highlighted a real challenge in the contemporary food system while simultaneously avoiding the tendency towards consumer-based political agency. Indeed, in many ways Dive represents a fundamentally anti-consumerist call—a movement to secure livelihoods outside the market. Seifert’s efforts to connect local kitchens serving the food insecure with grocers also represents a community-based rather than individually based effort to address the problems explored in the film. And that really sets it apart from many of the other films on food today.

More broadly, freeganism represents an interesting political movement that harkens back to Karl Polanyi’s double movement and efforts to demarketize social relations such that social reproduction is not purely (or even primarily) dependent on market relations. But that’s a post for another day.

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4 Comments
  1. Seth permalink

    Noah,
    Forgive any grammar or factual errors here, I am writing this out quickly before heading to work.

    I haven’t watched the film yet, but I’m curious as to whether it addresses health code regulations in relation to soup kitchens and similar organizations. I imagine that any kitchen that does food prep for public consumption must use food that meets a certain standard.
    I know food being thrown out by grocers is usually still edible, just aesthetically poorer than what we see on the shelves, but where does it fall within the legal regulations for public consumption?

    Not to say the obvious here, but this seems like an area where there is room for an overhaul of how we operate our food systems. What if grocers could receive a tax credit or a subsidy for donating foods that are about to expire, or are not likely to sell (produce managers always know which things are going to sell if left on the shelf and which are too far gone to keep), to local farms/soup kitchens/food banks? This in turn would help supplement the animal feed and donations (and the costs associated with each), which would lower costs and increase yields for everyone down the line.

    On a small scale it works fairly well; I know this is anecdotal but I have friends who garden and raise chickens, my household donates our food scraps (minus the ones poisonous to chickens) to help supplement the chicken feed and compost, in turn this lowers the costs of raising the chickens and tending the garden, which means they can sell me eggs for a lot cheaper. It’s a nice cyclical system which has resulted in some amazingly delicious (and cheap!) eggs, and so many fresh (organic, GMO free) veggies that we don’t know what to do with them.

    Anyway, that’s my ‘food’ for thought on this…

  2. Thanks for the comments, Seth. Yes, the film does touch on the regulatory frameworks. There are provisions passed under the Clinton Administration that protects companies donating food from liability claims. But I take your point.

    That’s also only part of the waste picture. There is the food that is perfectly good that we’re throwing away. But there is also fodo that is no longer good for human consumption. There I think your local solution is a good one, even if we can’t necessarily scale it up.

    Thanks again for the feedback!

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  1. Wasting Food, Wasting Water | Global Food Politics
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