Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jeremy Seifert's DIVE! -- a small documentary with large import

DIVE! Living Off America's Waste -- one of the must-see documentaries of the year -- begins like a Who Knew? movie extolling the virtues of "dumpster diving" (dredging for perfectly edible food tossed into dumpsters by your local supermarket) and then opens up and out into a gentle but deeply-felt cri de coeur against hunger, waste, America's food industry and our country's sad consumer habits. Best of all, the film -- only 55 minutes long -- arrives with ready-made solutions built right into it. Watch, be immediately converted, and take action!

Its maker, Jeremy Seifert (shown at right) -- husband, father, dumpster diver and activist -- comes across as a sweet, home-made kind of guy, friendly and easy-going but serious and real. He's given us a movie with similar qualities. He begins with statistics: Every year in America, we waste -- destroy -- fully half of the food we produce. We throw away 96 billion pounds of the stuff annually, which comes to 263 million pounds per day. With these figures in mind, we go dumpster diving with Jeremy and his pals, watching as he and they pull out from the dumpsters pre-packaged, unopened containers of meat, poultry and fish; fresh vegetables and fruit; and breads of all sorts  -- individually wrapped and sometimes in very large multiples.

In fact, the scavengers' biggest problem is that the gang always finds too much perfectly edible food. At one point the filmmaker tells us that one week of "diving" produces enough meat to last a full year (you'd need a freezer, of course). "We get all our food from dumpsters, and we're eating better than ever before," notes the pregnant wife of one of the "divers."  They even, in one memorable scene, invite over a gourmet chef, who makes dinner for them all. You'll salivate. Around this point you realize that these are recently-grown-up, middle-class kids who are doing the diving -- not, perhaps, the neediest of citizens.

Before you can say class-consciousness or yuppie/hippie, Seifert's film tackles hunger in America -- and abroad (his use of Haiti as his prime example is as sad and truthful as it is inspired).  Food, he explains, makes up 20% of landfill waste (that's where it eventually goes, post-dumpster phase) -- which means that America is feeding its landfills as much food as it feeding its entire country. This is shameful. Yet Seifert does not waste our time keening and finger-pointing. He tries to learn why all these supermarkets are disposing of their food (most of it dumped the day prior to its expiration date) in this wasteful manner (and after the dumpster diving is pointed out to them, locking the said dumpsters!) rather than trying to connect with food banks, homeless shelters and the like.

What he learns may not surprise you -- efficiency and economy trump need every time -- but he goes further and also learns that, while corporate offices refuse to address this issue, some of the individual stores in a chain (Trader Joe's is the prime example used) do give their tossed-out food to the needy. So why not do this in a more complete and enveloping manner? Good question. And if enough people see this little movie and move into action, this could happen. Our "broken food system," as Seifert calls it, could find itself slowly being repaired. The filmmaker is no Pollyanna; as his film shows, he knows the road ahead will be rough-going. But he ends his movie with an appropriate quote from Noam Chomsky and some genuine hope for the hungry of our world.

DIVE! Living off America's Waste, from First Run Features, is going direct-to-video and streets this Tuesday, July 19. You can buy it or rent it (or at least save it on Netflix: If this increasingly please-the-stockholders but screw-the-customers company has any intention of making good on its early promise, it had better order important films like this one, rather than simply pretending to order them via the increasingly sleazy "Save" option). But however you plan to view Dive! -- which has now won 21 festival awards, worldwide -- just do it.

All photos are from the film's web site -- except the one just above, taken in Haiti by Ramon Espinosa, which comes courtesy of the Associated Press


Dumpster Rentals said...

Nice Post,
Material for recycling may be collected separately from general waste using dedicated bins and collection vehicles, or sorted directly from mixed waste streams.

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, DR--
And while I realize that your comment is a ploy to get a little extra business, well -- why not? -- in these trying economic times. So I am posting you, just in case anyone out there needs a dumpster.... Meantime, you should try to see DIVE!

Renting Dumpster said...

very interesting post,
You might be considering the dumpster as just a large metal container used to disposal the garbage, but actually it is much more than that.

James van Maanen, said...

Again, we have marketing posing as a comment. But what the hell, recycling is good for the planet, so I am posting Renting Dumpster's "words."