The Austrians behind Waste Cooking want to show the culinary possibilities of food that ends up in the trash.
Sure, we've got "freegans" in the U.S. — people happy not to pay for food when they can just dig it out of trash bins. But even as awareness of food waste grows, these Dumpster divers are parodied on Portlandia and Funny Or Die for putting their palates where their principles are.
But in Austrian media, Dumpster divers aren't being mocked — they're starring in their own reality cooking show, Waste Cooking.
The show is produced by a group of artists/activists. Show director David Gross, who hails from Salzburg, says he did his first dive there in January 2012 and was shocked by the food waste he encountered.
"Although I was prepared for large amounts, the amount of waste left me speechless," he writes in German on the show's website.
Gross felt that more people need to understand what it means that Austria throws out around 105,000 tons of edible food each year. (Austria, mind you, has one of the most sophisticated composting programs in the world.) So, inspired by reality TV shows like Fear Factor, he decided to team up with cooks and fellow divers to demonstrate the delicious possibilities of all the food in the trash.
A typical episode of Waste Cooking begins with a group of divers congregating on their bikes. They then set off into the night, their bike lights flashing, in search of trash cans specifically designated for organic waste — Austria has had an ordinance requiring separate collection of organic waste since 1995.
Invariably, the divers gather an impressive haul of pristine fruits, vegetables, cheese and other foods, packaged or not. Then Vienna food blogger and cooking instructor Tobias Judmaier transforms it into vittles in a kitchen set up on a public pedestrian thoroughfare, where he and others try to lure passersby to taste their fare. Many are titillated by the gambit, but some wrinkle their noses when they learn the provenance of the food.
Episodes of the show — which is a pretty low-budget affair — first went up online last March. The Viennese community TV station Okto began airing it in December. You can find recipes for the dishes they've thrown together on the show's website, and to this food blogger, they don't look half bad — lentil stew and asparagus salad among them.
Last month, the team sent off a short film, called Days in Trash, to an international art exhibition on food at the Museum Ariana in Geneva. (The exhibit lasts through Feb. 24.) You can watch the film here, at left. It has English subtitles and features an earnest song in German about food waste performed by a young woman on a keyboard.