The food we throw away in Europe would be enough to feed all the hungry people in the world, and ‘waste divers’ have long sought to redress the balance by proving you can live (very happily) off the ‘rubbish’ other people discard.
The Austrian art movement wastecooking launched in April 2012, with a mission ‘to rescue food from the dark of the garbage container and bring it into the spotlight’. Quite literally.
‘Our approach is to use art in order to make people aware of the global issue of food waste’, says Tobias Judmaier, food blogger and chef for the wastecooking TV show.
‘Food is culture, and more than just a means to an end. We try to give the body what the mind needs to look at the bigger picture.’
‘We produce a cooking show, critical of society, that mainly uses produce that had previously been thrown away in order to prepare delicious meals’, he says. The project was designed to reach the masses: the show can be watched as web episodes on wastecooking.com and is also aired on selected TV channels. ‘We perform in public spaces and cook in venues that draw communal attention, such as town squares, concerts and fairs’, says Judmaier. ‘We rescue food from the dark of the garbage container and bring it under the spotlight of a cooking show. Our aim is to show the actual “dirty business” of the food industry.’
‘Waste diving’ is a form of politically motivated anti-consumerism. It kicked off in the United States in the ‘80s as a protest against arms exports; the ‘Food not bombs’ activists were the first to cook with waste, transforming the art into public action.
This movement isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty to make a point: according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, we ‘lose’ 300kg of food per head — half of which is thrown away by households, the other half by supermarkets, farms and the industry. Judmaier tells PQ, ‘According to the studies, most of the food that is wasted is being thrown away by households. But when you see what we find in supermarket bins, you understand that the numbers must be a bit different from that.
‘We are the fly in the ointment of the throwaway society, the incarnate protest against food waste!’
‘Overall, almost 50% of all food produced is wasted. In Africa this is mostly due to bad storage and transport; in Europe it is due to perfectionism, spoiled consumers and an industry that overproduces. We wash carrots and potatoes before we sort them by size and aesthetics, so we can spot tiny mistakes and throw out what does not look perfect.’
In many countries, including Germany, waste diving is illegal; activists have appeared before court in Munich, accused of theft and trespassing for rescuing waste fruit, vegetables and bread from the rubbish bins. In Austria rubbish is deemed ‘unclaimed property’, but trespassing onto supermarket sites to claim it is illegal.
Aware that it’s operating in a legal grey zone, wastecooking fires back the following challenge: ‘Who commits, in your opinion, the greater crime? The individual waste diver that gets the food out of the barrel that is otherwise burned, or those who are responsible for the global, systematic destruction of food on a large scale? Our conscience tells us that we are doing nothing illegal if we bring waste back to life.’