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Jeremy Seifert produced the Dive!, a film about food waste and how much of it is actually useful. (Photo courtesy of Dive! The Film)
Jeremy Seifert produced the Dive!, a film about food waste and how much of it is actually useful. (Photo courtesy of Dive! The Film)

A filmmaker's food waste story

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A film about food waste is catching attention and awards at independent film festivals across the country.

The film is called Dive!, and reviewers are shocked by the film's statistics about how much edible food that grocery stores toss into dumpsters. Shawn Allee reports the reviewers are also enthralled by the filmmaker's personal story about diving after that food.

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Shawn Allee, May 21, 2010

Jeremy Seifert didn't start dumpster diving to make a film.

A few years ago, friends turned him onto it. One morning, they surprised him with bags of food pulled from a dumpster.

"And so my entire kitchen floor was covered with meat and salads and I was filled with delight and wonder and I just said, "where do we begin?"

Seifert says he dumpster dived for kicks, but that changed. Seifert is a filmmaker by trade, and he got a filming assignment at a refugee camp in Uganda. The kids in the camp had hardly any food.

"They were truly hungry and suffering from hunger. And I came back home and two nights later, I was on my way to a dumpster pulling out a carload of food that had been thrown away. That experience filled me with such outrage, that I felt I needed to do something and my expression was to make a film."

Seifert's film picks up after his dumpster diving takes this kind of political turn. It's not for kicks anymore; he wants to show our food waste problem is so bad, that his family could practically live off food from grocery stores dumpsters. He gets advice from experienced divers.

"Rule number one. Never take more than you need unless you find it a good home."

But, Seifert runs into trouble with this rule. He can't let food go ...

"I'm tired of it, there's too much. I only took this much because there's so much going to waste. It's almost two in the morning, and I don't have anywhere to put it, really. I had to save as much of it as I could. In just a week of nightly diving, we had a year's supply of meat."

Guilt wasn't his only problem. His wife, Jen, explains a practical one.

"The dumpster stuff is really great. but because there's such a large quantity of it, it can turn to a lot of work. So there's like 12 packages of strawberries that I need to wash and freeze and cut. It's not that big of a deal, but it's just a lot more work than going to the grocery store and picking up just what you need."

Seifert says the biggest problem with dumpster diving, was that it changed how he felt about food. One morning, he talked to his young son about it and kept the camera rolling ...

"I don't know if dumpster diving and eating food from the dumpster has made me value food more or value food less because it's easier now to throw food away because we have so much of it. Part of me, I think I'm valuing food even less."

"You can't waste food, Dad."

"I know, I don't want to waste food. Do you want to waste food?"

"No."

"I don't want to waste food, either."

Seifert tells me that this scene at the breakfast table haunted him, because maybe he was setting a bad example for his son.

"So it was a crisis moment in my food waste dumpster diving adventures. And so by the time the film was over, I was so tired of food and thinking about food."

Well, Seifert's had to keep thinking about food.

His film's at festivals, and he helps activists get grocery stores to donate to food banks. But things have changed at Seifert's house.

He doesn't dumpster dive so much - instead, he's started a garden. That way, his boy can really value what makes it to the dinner table.

For The Environment Report, I'm Shawn Allee.

Copyright 2010 The Regents of the University of Michigan. Used with permission

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