Food Waste and Freeganism: A Short Review of Dive
Food 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:
- First come, first dibs.
- Never take more than you need.
- 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.