Award-Winning Film Reveals Incredible Amount of Transport Food Waste on U.S.-Mexico Border
June 24, 2015 | AJ Hughes
A vast tide of fruits and vegetables continually flows up from origins in Mexico to the United States through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. And an astounding percentage of this produce ends up in landfills before even hitting the market.
Thanks to an award-winning film, Man in the Maze, the immense and costly problem of food waste in southern Arizona is being brought to light.
Man in the Maze, produced by Greener Media, a New York City-based enterprise committed to social change, tells the story of food waste and how it impacts the borderlands region in southern Arizona.
Viewers of the short film learn that more than 30 percent of all food consumed by Americans is produced in Mexico and travels through southern Arizona, one of the hardest hit areas in the country in terms of food insecurity and poverty.
The film illuminates how the current food system is not working by highlighting not only the enormous amount of food that is wasted, but the efforts to rescue this food so it can feed those who need it most.
Much of the film centers on the work of Gary Nabhan, a writer, conservationist and food activist. He and others, including farmers, gardeners, volunteers and seed savers, have started a movement toward rescuing food and reclaiming a healthy food system in southern Arizona and beyond.
Among the numerous beneficiaries of the rescued food is Borderlands Food Bank in Nogales, Arizona (home of the largest inland food port in the world). The food bank and its volunteers help salvage good discarded food, and use to feed the hungry in Arizona and elsewhere, including adjacent Sonora, in Mexico.
“In Santa Cruz County (border county, home of Nogales), there is a very high rate of diabetes,” says Yolanda Soto, president and CEO of Borderlands Food Bank. “There’s lots of hunger, and lots of need for nutritious food.
Soto says the rescued produce helps boost the nutrition levels of the food her food bank can offer. And when Borderlands Food Bank has too much produce, it facilitates shipping it to other food banks through a program called POWWOW (Produce on Wheels without Waste). Tractor trailers ship the rescued produce throughout Arizona.
Yet beause of funding issues, food is still wasted and discarded.
“What holds us back is a lack of transportation dollars,” says Soto. “If people could see how much produce there is left to serve; education (on this issue) is key—children and the elderly need to eat nutritiously.”
“What was most shocking was seeing truckloads of produce being thrown into the landfill,” says Phil Buccellato, Greener Media creative director, and one of the film’s directors. “I did not know about that side of the food waste spectrum.”
Often, the food is discarded because of price fluctuations in another region.
“If Florida tomato prices dip on a certain day, 120,000 pounds (of tomatoes) could be dumped in the landfill,” Nabhan says in the film.
“The film enables viewers to bear witness to things that are not made public,” says Jesse Ash, co-director of Man in the Maze and producer and director with Greener Media. “Viewers at a recent screening at Yale University gasped when they saw the amount of wasted food shown on the screen.”
Man in the Maze also highlights the work of Native Seeds/SEARCH, a Tucson, the Arizona-based nonprofit co-founded by Nabhan that collects and preserves endangered seeds, specifically those native to the arid Southwest. Through reclaiming ancient and rare varieties of seeds, Native Seeds/SEARCH addresses many challenges brought about by food insecurity.
Both Buccellato and Ash hope their film serves as a catalyst for change. Meanwhile, they continue pursuing projects that spotlight sustainability and food security issues.
Man in the Maze was one of five films that won the 2015 Sundance Short Film Challenge, beating out 1,300 other films that highlight the fight against hunger and poverty. It has also screened at other events, including the recent Food & Farm Film Fest in San Francisco.
“Food is a sacrament, food is what binds us together,” says Nabhan in the film. “It’s sacred, and it behooves all of us, whether it’s for health reasons, or because we care about the land, or because our faith requires us to care about the people most marginalized by a broken food system, to heal that food system. That’s the only way we’re going to heal our bodies, our economies, and the land.”