Rockefeller Keeps Pushing On Food Waste, This Time With Anthony Bourdain

In an era of media personalities climbing to unprecedented heights, maybe we shouldn’t be so critical of celebrities using their fame to highlight a good cause. Take celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, whose witty and irreverent travel shows (No Reservations, Parts Unknown) have a lot to say about food and politics alike.

As his profile grows, Bourdain’s latest project tackles a thorny and underreported challenge: food waste. In “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” he's producing a documentary on just how much food the human race throws away. (The numbers are disturbingly high. Up to a third of the world’s produce goes uneaten.) the Rockefeller Foundation is backing the project.

Set to debut at next year’s film festivals, the documentary “will show how everyone can make changes to minimize what we throw away,” according to Rockefeller president Judith Rodin in Variety. Like many of Bourdain’s shows, the film will feature the perspectives of chefs from around the world.

As a cause, food waste has the potential to resonate in the U.S., where families can throw away up to $2,275 worth of food a year. But wealthy countries aren’t the only culprits. As food moves from farm to table, inefficiencies in transport and storage cause massive spoilage worldwide.

That unfortunate fact is a call to action for the Rockefeller Foundation, and it’s the largest grantmaker on this case. We’ve covered YieldWise, Rockefeller’s $130 million initiative to cut food waste in half by 2030. With an initial focus on Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria, “where up to half of all food grown is lost,” YieldWise grants are also being directed to Europe and the United States.

Here in the U.S., Rockefeller emphasizes how local sustainability activists can join with savings-minded businesspeople to build a food waste movement. One strategy involves building consumer tolerance to so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables: produce that looks misshapen but is fine to eat. Usually, ugly produce gets trashed.

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Since food waste is essentially a supply chain problem, Rockefeller sees the private sector as a crucial partner. In Africa (and elsewhere), YieldWise is funding technological and training approaches, as well as business tools like better accounting.

But as it embarks on a new partnership with Anthony Bourdain, the foundation seems poised to bring media into the picture. The globetrotting New Yorker’s wide reach, especially among foodies, will alert a lot of folks to an issue usually confined to agricultural and environmental circles. And maybe Bourdain will talk up the problem in his ongoing culinary travel series Parts Unknown.

The Bourdain documentary isn’t Rockefeller’s first stab at a media approach to food and agricultural issues. It also gave $200,000 to a Kenyan multimedia company to produce Samba Shape Up, a “makeover” show for small farmers focusing on output rather than outfits. Rockefeller-funded episodes focus on reducing post-harvest losses, which often account for a 15 percent loss in annual income for small African farmers.

Apart from Rockefeller, other big global development funders are hard to find on this issue. Some smaller players include the New Venture Fund, the Fink Family Foundation, the Agua Fund, and the John Merck Fund.

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