What happens when two filmmakers challenge themselves to survive for six months only on discarded food? You get Just Eat It, a new documentary that explores the food waste issue from the farm all the way to a Vancouver fridge.
Debuting at festivals in late April, the film follows Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin’s food waste experiment and features interviews with experts like authors Tristram Stuart and Jonathan Bloom, and Dana Gunders, project scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. What they find is both shocking and hopeful.
This is Vancouver-based couple’s second foray into waste-based projects. For their first film, The Clean Bin Project, they competed with each other to see who could produce the least amount of garbage. We caught up with the filmmakers to learn more about Just Eat It. But first, check out the trailer:
Sustainable America: You had already tackled waste in your first film. What motivated you to look deeper into food waste?
Jenny Rustemeyer: We were doing some school presentations, and we ended up doing a waste audit at one school where you dump out a garbage can and look at all the different categories of recycling and things that shouldn’t have been in the garbage. We saw things like granola bars and pudding cups, and that was really the first time we realized that edible food was going in the garbage. That sparked the initial thought that we should look into food waste a little bit more.
Grant Baldwin: What we were trying to do at that school is say, “Let’s find out what can be composted.” But what we found is that this food hadn’t even got to the stage of being post-consumer. It was still ready to eat, still packaged. We started researching, and waste seemed to be the next food topic. I feel like we’ve had this conversation about organic food for so long, but if the food’s not even eaten, then what’s the point of growing it sustainably?
SA: Why did you challenge yourselves to live off discarded food?
Jen: This was totally Grant’s idea. We like to show the regular person’s side of the story. We thought if there’s 40% of food being wasted, we should be able to find some of it and eat it. There’s definitely a stigma around that. We both have day jobs, and I was pretty worried that my boss was going to find out that I was dumpster diving. But if we hadn’t set the rule that we had to eat exclusively rescued food, then I don’t think we would have found as much waste out there.
SA: How did you find the food?
Grant: It started pretty bad. We didn’t really know where to look. We went cold turkey; just quit grocery shopping, basically. We found most places lock up their waste. We would also try to purchase the food where we could from the grocery store that had already pulled it off the shelf, but that only worked a couple times during the whole project. Most places wouldn’t sell it to us.
At farmer’s markets, we were successful in purchasing the ugly stuff left over that people wouldn’t buy for cosmetic reasons. We’d find the majority of the food at wholesalers. Some grocery stores had bins that were open. A couple stores actually had a discount shelf of past-date food, and we were able to buy that.
Jen: Or we’d shop off the cull cart in the produce section. They go through the produce section and pick out the ones that are damaged and put them on the cart to take them into the back. I would just follow that guy around and take what he was taking right off the cart.
SA: So you were still spending some money on food? You were just trying to intercept the food that wasn’t going to be sold?
Grant: There’s a term called freegan that really bothers us because “free” is in the word, meaning you’re trying to live for free. And that really wasn’t the point of this project. We didn’t want to be associated with that, and also we felt like the food is still good, that’s the point. Why can’t we buy it? Though we tried to buy the food, we were pretty much shut down most of the time so we only spent $200 on groceries in 6 months, and we brought home $20,000 worth.