Food News

What Anthony Bourdain's New Documentary Taught Us About Food Waste

October 13, 2017

Today, Anthony Bourdain’s documentary Wasted is available to stream online and view in select theaters. The film tackles head-on our global food waste disaster and sees Bourdain partners with his chef-y friends (and one very talented muralist) to illustrate the massive amounts of detritus we humans produce in the process of feeding ourselves.

A still from the film shows the dizzying amounts of groceries we have at our fingertips. Photo by Wasted Film
Wasted is available to stream and view in select theaters today.

And while the film is packed with shocking figures about America’s mammoth role in creating food waste and the time it takes a vegetable to decompose in a landfill (25 years!), Wasted also takes the time to tell the stories of people (and organizations) working on innovative solutions. Directors Anna Chai and Nari Kye point a patient lens on chefs like Italy’s Massimo Bottura whose Refettorios repurpose the mounds of uneaten foods left behind after global events like Milan’s Expo or Brazil’s Olympic Games. To emphasize the role corporations can play, Chai and Kye shed light on the efforts of a yogurt company to repurposes their waste, using leftover whey to power their facilities. They also highlight the chefs who are seeking new philosophies for cooking and eating in an effort to reduce waste: Danny Bowien, chef and founder of Mission Chinese, eats unpopular cuts of pork in a Tokyo restaurant while Blue Hill’s Dan Barber makes cauliflower leaves look more appealing than its florets. In tandem, these vignettes bring to life a nose-to-tail approach to eating that, despite its popularity on some elite menus, is only beginning to take flight in the everyday American diet. It’s stories like these that imbue otherwise horrific figures and desolate images of landfills with subtle points hope.

Italian Chef Massimo Bottura rethinks ways to appropriate massive amounts of food waste. Photo by Wasted Film

The cast is star-studded with a bevy of chefs (Bowien, Mario Batali, and Barber, among others) and the production value is nothing less than slick; the graphics are tight and the hi-def shots are intensely immersive. Bourdain’s narration lends to the whole affair a levity that is unexpected (though not unwelcome) in a documentary that addresses such a heavy, pervasive topic. As he narrates at the film's close, he didn’t want to make some finger-wagging, pit-in-your-stomach kind of film. He reached his goal; for better or for worse, Wasted doesn’t have the emotional or dramatic heft of some other journalistic heavy hitters, like say Food, Inc. However, what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in clean storytelling and a captivating cast.

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Will you give Wasted a watch? Let us know where you'll be screening in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emily Smith
    Emily Smith
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    Rebecca C
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Emily S. October 19, 2017
I'm very interested in watching this, especially learning that it isn't all about telling us how horrible we are at food waste (which, I get it, we are), but it's also about solutions. Which really is the education we need to do better, right?
sue October 19, 2017
Take a look at very old cookbooks you can find online. In the 1700's, all parts of the critters were eaten. When's the last time you sat down of a meal of lamb brains and stones?
Dava October 14, 2017
I grew up in rural Oklahoma in the 50' and 60's. We raised all of our meats, beef, pork and chicken along with some wild game. Vegetables from large gardens were canned and frozen as well as items such as strawberries, peaches, appricots, and apples purchased locally. We used and reused everything in some way shape or form! We purchased only basics such as salt, sugar and flour during our monthly trip to the grocer. We cooked all meals at home. It is a full time plus job that can add much to the family budget and provide healthy, chemical free food.
Rebecca C. October 19, 2017
That's just not practical anymore though. What was, is no longer a way of life now. Even if i wanted to live that way, i couldn't for resource, financial, & geographical reasons.
Dava October 19, 2017
In rural areas people still live this way. I moved away from this type of living and never regretted it. I did continue to use every scrape I could and reuse as much as possible. It is all about choices and priorities and doing the best we can within our family.
Mary C. October 13, 2017
I'll be screening in Portland, ME. This has been a particular interest of mine the past several years. I grew up in a culture (rural, Eastern North Carolina) where I was in a privileged position to turn up my nose to chitlins and fried chicken gizzards. As I get older, I respect the practice far more. In that vein, I am mindful of the food waste I produce. Even scrap cooking has piqued my interest (thanks to Mads Refslund and Tama Matsuoka Wong's cookbook Scrap, Wilt, and Weeds).