Anyone who's worked in food service will attest to the copious amount of waste generated at every meal. Directors Anna Chai and Nari Kye begin their debut documentary with some bad news: That's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce, as an obscene amount of produce never even makes it to a plate. They open with the dire scope of the problem, and then spend the rest of the eager and encouraging Wasted! offering creative solutions.
Chai and Kye worked on culinary television shows (including The Mind of a Chef and Parts Unknown) with Anthony Bourdain, and when that churlish chef first appears onscreen, he disparages being cast as an activist. That balances the evangelical zeal of other featured chefs like Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura (yes, they're in the film), and establishes Wasted!'s tone of breezy advocacy. As with many recent environmental documentaries, the filmmakers' call to action is simple and upbeat: This isn't so hard, people, we can do it if we try!
Wasted! primarily examines the use of vegetables, grains and fruit, with the more contentious issues surrounding dairy and meat production tucked into stories of innovative technology (a Tennessee yoghurt plant uses excess whey to generate electricity; a Japanese company turns farm and grocery rejects into nutritious pig feed).
What doesn't get fully addressed is our hunger for abundance: the overstuffed buffets and tightly packed supermarket shelves projecting plenty. Full refrigerators and teeming pantries are as American as apple pie, and it will take an inspired food philosopher to shift our ingrained view that too much is just right.