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

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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.
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.
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.

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Italian Chef Massimo Bottura rethinks ways to appropriate massive amounts of food waste.
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.

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

Tags: anthony bourdain, wasted, documentary