Wasting and wanting in America

Food waste — the loss of food intended for consumption — begins in the field and ends in the trash cans of consumers, a group of documentary filmmakers has discovered.

Pacific Lutheran University students Amanda Brasgalla and Taylor Lunka spent the past year researching, investigating and creating a documentary film on food waste. They were joined in January by videographer Olivia Ash.

The 30-minute documentary, “Waste Not: Breaking Down the Food Equation,” explains how and why food is wasted. It will premiere at 3 p.m. Saturday at Theatre on the Square. The event is free and open to the public.

Lunka said the simple statistics are alarming. But breaking them down and finding the root causes are complicated. The United Nations estimates $750 million worth of food is lost annually. And food wasted means energy and resources wasted.

Food can be measured in a variety of ways: volume, weight, item count and calories. Food loss can be measured by its impact on the environment — the cost of disposing it and the impact on landfills – and its economic impact.

Lunka uses volumeto measure the annual food waste every year in the United States, which he calculates at 40 percent. The typical U.S. family dumps 20 pounds of food into the trash every month.

“Most of the food is thrown away at the consumer level,” Lunka said. “In other countries, it’s at the production level because they don’t have the technology or systems to get it to the markets or to the consumers.”

It’s a systemwide problem, Lunka said.

“We just can’t pinpoint the cause. From farm to fork there’s food waste.”

The researchers interviewed people who can’t get enough to eat despite living in a world full of food going to waste.

They followed a Tacoma family of six who make just enough money to disallow them from government assistance. Still, they struggle to provide food and rely on food banks to fill the gaps.

“It is your neighbors and co-workers who you don’t think suffer from food insecurity. But they do,” Lunka said.

The PLU students traveled to an Iowa farm and even the United Kingdom to interview subjects.

A panel discussion will follow the screening and include Kate Edwards, an organic farmer from Solon, Iowa; Beth Elliott, executive director of FISH Food Banks of Pierce County; and Tacoma mother Jessica Frazier.

The film also offers tips for the consumer to reduce food waste.

The trio of students are members of PLU’s MediaLab, a student-run media and applied research organization at PLU’s School of Arts and Communication.