Anthony Bourdain’s “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” will make you think

By Bliss Bowen

Here are some meaty factoids to chew over the next time you scrape leftovers off dinner plates into the trash: One third of all food produced is never eaten; 40% of food produced in the United States goes to waste; more than 90% of that winds up in landfills; and the annual cost of that waste can be measured in trillions of dollars.

Those are just a few unpalatable statistics laid out like garnish at the top of the documentary “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” screening Wednesday at the Aero Theatre. Presented by the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment, Sustainable Works, and American Cinematheque, the film will be followed by a panel discussion.

Executive produced by curmudgeonly provocateur Anthony Bourdain, who made a flurry of promotional appearances around the time of its release in October and who offers some pungent commentary onscreen, “Wasted!” features several star chefs who view food waste as an opportunity for culinary creativity: Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura, and Danny Bowien. All ask big questions about health and sustainability through the dishes they create, and are shown applying animal farming’s nose-to-tail principle to typically unused produce such as cauliflower leaves and squash blossoms. Their projects intersect with companies identifying growth potential in food waste such as Japan’s J-FEC, which has recycled food waste to create nutritious pig feed that is now helping farmers produce tastier, healthier pigs.

Other guests, like Rockefeller Foundation president Dr. Judith Rodin, food writer Mark Bittman and “A Taste of Generation Yum” author Eve Turow Paul, urge people to rethink food — its sources, preparation, cost, and meaning. What would a truly sustainable plate of food look like? British author (“The Bloodless Revolution” and “Waste: Uncovering the Global Waste Scandal”) Tristam Stuart identifies food production as the “single biggest cause” of deforestation, water extraction, habitat loss and biodiversity loss; one third of all that loss, he says, goes into producing food that is wasted. The world’s hunger problem could be solved overnight, he asserts, by supermarket chains changing practices like rejecting cosmetically blemished produce and by not pushing impulse buying.

Former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch advocates a re-examination of Best By/Use By dates on food. His recently launched not-for-profit grocery market, Daily Table, gets a big boost from “Wasted!” for its model of servicing working-class Massachusetts communities with healthy, low-priced food that would otherwise be wasted. J-FEC and Stuart’s Toast Ale, made with bread that would otherwise be waste, receive similar plaudits for establishing financially and environmentally sustainable practices that benefit citizens.

U.S. waste management companies ship tons of our trash overseas to be processed. Changing our habits so people on the other side of the globe aren’t required to clean up our food waste would be a helluva lot cheaper, and demonstrably healthier for the planet.

“Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 28) at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. Tickets are $12 at or free for Santa Monica students at