In the USA, where more than 40% of food is wasted, first-time filmmaker Jeremy Seifert explores the hidden culture of dumpster diving in the world’s most wasteful nation. With more than 96 billion pounds (43.6 billion kilos) thrown away each year, Dive! Living Off America’s Trash asks the question – Why is all this food being thrown out and not given to the people who need it?
We caught up with filmmaker Jeremy Seifert to find out more about his hot new film.
Why did you decide to make this film?
I created Dive! as a response to the massive amount of wasted food I loaded into my car from the dumpsters of local Trader Joe's stores. I made the film because there was a deep outrage welling within me every time I bit into a fresh Atlantic Salmon or Australian lamb chops that had been chucked into a trash can moments before and was destined for the landfill.
The outrage happened primarily on two levels: Food is life and shouldn't be recklessly wasted. The blatancy of this lack of appreciation and valuing of life awakened me. There are over 1 billion people on this planet that suffer from hunger, while every night in the United States millions of pounds of edible food are thrown away.
Making the film became a way for me to question and search and take action. The creative work of imagining a film and the painful work of editing countless hours into a coherent story helped the filmmaker wrestle with large issues and concepts and questions, hopefully emerging with something both beautiful and truthful.
We, the United States, consume more food per capita than any other country on the planet, and we waste more per capita than any other country as well.
How did you get started dumpster diving?
I started dumpster diving about four years ago. Some friends were visiting from Philadelphia and came over on a Sunday morning with five or six huge garbage bags full of amazing food. We had a feast that day! When they told me where it came from, I was out a few nights later like some wild hunter-gatherer of old.
At the very beginning there is this hump you have to get over. You fight this culturally infused sense of shame. You're on edge about "getting caught" by the store employees or cops. There is definitely courage in numbers during this virgin voyage, but after a few leaps into the dumpster and after acclimating to that unmistakable aroma, you can do it alone. And it becomes as natural as walking into a grocery store.
How much of your weekly food comes from dumpsters?
Leading up to and while making the film, I would say that more than half our food came from the dumpsters, and ALL our meat. All of our meat still comes from the dumpster, but I can't get out that late as much anymore as I'm getting to be a tired old man and can't function so well on 3 or 4 hours of sleep.
Describe a typical haul from a night of dumpster diving?
Some nights you might just get a bag of potatoes and a dozen eggs or maybe some flowers for your special someone. Other nights you could fill a few cars with food!
Just the other night I was driving home from downtown LA, and it was after midnight so I stopped by a dumpster. I hopped out and grabbed a couple of bags and was back on the road in less than a minute. When I got home I added up over $140 of very nice steaks and had about 15 pints of fresh squeezed orange juice, three dozen eggs, some baby broccoli, a bag of apples, six or seven pre-made salads, some tangerines, and a bunch of bread and bagels.
Have you ever been sick from the dumpster food?
No one I know has ever gotten sick from dumpster food. It's not that you couldn't because there's some rotten and nasty food in those dumpsters! The more I began pulling food from trashcans, the more I became educated about food. You learn to smell things, and start trusting that sense.
Why is dumpster diving illegal?
Dumpster diving in most places is illegal because, technically, you are trespassing. But I've never seen a "No Trespassing" sign!
The problem of food waste is a bad habit born of unparalleled excess that permeates all of our society.
Why is there so much food waste in America?
The problem of food waste is a bad habit born of unparalleled excess that permeates all of our society. Estimates of just how enormous the problem is suggest that we waste half of all our food in the United States. And everyone participates in these startling figures....from giant agribusiness and faceless corporations to our own kitchens.
We, the United States, consume more food per capita than any other country on the planet, and we waste more per capita than any other country as well. Wasting food destroys life, disrespects the earth, wastes resources, pollutes the environment with harmful methane gas, and steals from those in need.
Our over-consumption and waste is directly related to shortages in other countries and environmental devastation.
Are you hopeful people will start to waste less food?
We have to start with ourselves first, and that's often where we'd rather not start. In so many ways we are blind to our own bad habits. So, we have to eliminate waste in our own homes. I think a good next step is to EAT TRASH. I'm serious about that!
Something happens when you participate, when you actually touch and see and taste something, rather than just read about it or discuss it. It's the same with loving others and seeking justice - you can theorize, strategize, and know so much, but until you talk with those who are really in need or marginalized or hungry or homeless, and maybe even embrace them and walk with them, until this real encounter happens, you will only be involved half-heartedly.
On another level, we have to involve ourselves politically, where big decisions can be made that can effect whole systems. I am hopeful with this issue of food waste because people are becoming more aware of food from a health perspective, and also from a position of lack and need. And when a corporation like Walmart, yes Walmart, makes a decision to give all food waste to food banks, we can be hopeful. I just can't believe that Walmart has taken that step at the corporate level before company's like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. That blows my mind!
How can people see your film?
The film has been playing at festivals all over the country and showing up at various screenings as well. Just check the website for screenings, or if you'd like to set up a screening in your area, just send an email to the contact on the webpage. Or if you just want to watch it in the comfort of your home (while eating dumpster food!), you can order a DVD on the website for US$15.
Does the film have distribution?
What is your next project?
I'd like to raise a big chunk of money and make the feature-length version of Dive!. So far Dive! has won eight of the eleven festivals it has been in, so I'm hoping there's enough momentum building up to make this happen. I've also got a growing list of ideas for other documentaries that I'd love to start working on.
Dive! Living Off America’s Trash is part of the Going Green Film Festival in Los Angeles on April 2-4th, 2010.