Anthony Bourdain and Danny Bowien are trying to remember what foods they were hesitant to try before they’d eaten seemingly every part of every animal. The chefs and stars of Zero Point Zero’s new documentary, WASTED! The Story of Food Waste, recall trying tripe, a pig rectum and chicken feet with vulnerability.
“You know, a lot of things that I love now, are the things that I was a little wary of the first time I had it put in front of me,” says Bourdain. “The first time you’re about to eat chicken feet or duck tongue, you’re like I don’t know, man…”
“Yeah, chicken feet was like a thing for me for sure,” Bowien responds, before the pair agrees, “They’re so good.”
Whole animal cooking is one of the solutions to food waste presented in the film, which premieres in select theaters and On Demand today. The documentary debuted at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, presenting statistics about America’s food waste crisis, examples of policy changes around the world, opportunities in systems from schools to grocery stores, and stories from iconic chefs Dan Barber, Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura and others.
“Chefs are way out in front on hunger issues and food waste issues,” Bourdain tells USA TODAY. “Almost before anyone else. It’s a fundamental instinct on the part of chefs who all came up in a system that abhorred waste and punished those who wasted out of financial necessity, out of tradition.”
While food waste in landfills contributes to greenhouse gases and ultimately climate change, the issue is directly linked to hunger — both of which are problems that Bourdain suggests travel can impact.
“When you see the number of hungry people in this world, when you see how hard they struggle everyday to live, to feed themselves and their families, that makes you more empathetic and appreciate more the scope of the problem and how obscene it is to waste the amount of food that we do,” he says.
Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown out each year, a third of which never even makes it to our plates, according to the film. Bowien explores solutions in Japan on screen, from experimental farms transforming food waste into feed for pigs, to chefs preparing more parts of the animal for diners.
“Focusing on what’s delicious is more important than focusing on … what part of the animal it’s from,” Bowien says, after consuming brain yakitori in Japan. “The film really outlines how other countries are handling the issue of food waste and they are making a difference, and I think that that is imperative to see what other people are doing and then look inward.”
Beyond Japan, France and Italy passed laws to reduce food waste in 2016, and South Korea charges residents fees by volume for their food waste, which is separated like recyclables.
Bourdain cites Batali as one of the first American chefs to “put stuff on the menu that he loved, that his customers were going to find unfamiliar and maybe a little frightening.” Now diners who support their local chefs and allow more off cuts or garbage fish on menus can reduce how much food is being thrown away.
Bourdain and Bowien agree they’d like to see oily fish, fish heads and collars, pig tails and beef cheeks become more mainstream for consumption.
“So many of the things that we love now — pork belly, beef cheeks, pigs’ feet, tripe — this stuff is hipster bait now,” Bourdain explains. “You put any of these dishes in a bear trap out on the sidewalk, come back 10 minutes later, there’ll be 10 dead hipsters in there, lured by its hipness. These are all expensive menu items now in metropolitan areas whereas they were poor people food 10 years ago.”
Browse the photos below for “poor man’s dishes” that originated out of necessity and off cuts that diners can enjoy around the country, and get a sneak peek at the film, rolling out in additional theaters on Oct. 20, above.