movie review: DIVE!

DIVE! actually came out in 2010, but as part of my quest to watch as many food and environment documentaries as I can, I added it to my queue. The film focuses on waste – in particular what America throws out. The dive to which the title refers? Straight into a dumpster.

In just the first few seconds of the film, we’re reminded that America wastes 3,000 pounds of food per second. So in the time it has taken you to read this far, we’ve wasted several thousand pounds of food. 

It’s true that 40% of the food that’s wasted is thrown out in our households. But what about the other 60%? The film follows people who actually dumpster dive for discarded food from grocery stores. 

I was shocked to see how much food they would find on a nightly basis that was perfectly edible. Entire bags of avocados or packages of tomatoes, where one had gone soft or moldy, but the rest were fine. Slightly wrinkled blueberries or bags of salad greens that were one day away from “expiring.” Even more shocking was the amount of meat wasted. In the span of seven evenings, the people in the film found enough meat to feed a family for a year. Being outside in the cold night? It stayed refrigerated and sealed. And in the garbage.

The people who do this see it as civil disobedience – actively opposing the immorality of perfectly good food thrown out by corporations when millions of Americans go to bed hungry each night. I see it that way too. Because of the Good Samaritan Act passed during Clinton’s presidency, companies are protected from liability for food donations. But many still throw out food in advance of expiration dates. And refuse to donate it, even when asked.

Regardless of the morality factor, it’s not even good business practice. We waste 50% of the food produced in this country, to the detriment of our environment, economy and our societal well being. One person in the film is quoted as saying “when you waste food, you waste life.” Every time you throw food out, you’re not just wasting that food, but all of the resources that went into producing it – water, time, labor, etc. 

This film reminds us that we’ve forgotten that food is precious. It’s a valuable gift. We take it for granted and consume it divorced from its true cost. Say you throw out leftovers. What if you also dumped 1,000 gallons of water down the drain at the same time, and then put $5 on your kitchen counter and set it on fire? Would you be more likely to eat, share or preserve that food if you were aware of what you were truly wasting?

While this film felt like a “first documentary” from the filmmaker, with a lot of footage that seemed like it was recorded on someone’s iPhone and a lot of “I tried to get someone from X store to speak with me and they refused,” it still kept my attention. It also made me interested in reclamation programs that work with companies to salvage discarded food before it’s lost to rot or spoilage and help get it where it needs to go to feed people. Even though I probably won’t be dumpster diving anytime soon, I will probably ask my grocery store what they do with the food they throw out when I visit this week.