Leftover Swap App has Admirable Goal – Eliminating Food Waste – but Would You be Willing to Finish a Stranger’s Dinner?

OK, we all know we Americans, as a nation, produce too much food waste. The United States had – which means ate, fed to animals, and plain wasted – more than four times the food we needed in 2010. That’s enough to feed about 1.6 billion in a country of roughly 400 million. Some of it we ate, much of it we threw away. A larger portion than that which humans consumed was used to fatten farm animals we later ate. Meanwhile, another fraction was never even harvested or presented for consumption, wasted for issues from the serious, like possible e-coli contamination, to the ridiculous, like lobsters being rejected because they have a harmless condition that turns their shells white.

We all recognize the problem of food waste, but are you willing to put your concern where your mouth is? By that we mean, would you feel OK passing your half-full plate to someone you don’t know whose last meal might have come out of a trash bin on a city street? Perhaps more discomfiting, would you be willing to finish the meal a stranger couldn’t?

That’s the premise the developers of a new app are working on, and they believe there will be plenty of people who will answer “Yes” to each of those questions. That’s why they’re going to introduce Leftover Swap for iPhone users at the end of August, rolling it out for Android platforms in the weeks following that. It’s expected to be free for all users.

At its start, Leftover Swap will be confined to metropolitan Los Angeles, an area with plenty of haves and plenty of have-nots. It will work by connecting those who have food they can’t eat with those who are willing – and, potentially, really need – to eat it.

Connecting “Givers” and “Takers” in an Effort to Reduce Food Waste

Leftover Swap app illustration

So, say you’ve just gone out for a delicious meal and when your belly got full, your plate was still half so. As what the Leftover Swap folks call a “giver,” you take a picture of the food in your (eco friendly) take-out box with your smartphone, then upload it along with a description to the app. Your location is marked on a map that is searchable by those nearby who need a meal, what the Leftover Swap website (which is worth checking out if for no other reason than a cheeky graph at mid-page) calls “takers.” Those people can then use the app to arrange a pick-up or, if you’re willing, a delivery.

To us, this seems a lot like that old saying, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” We all recognize that the availability of good food is an issue for most of the world and many of us have bemoaned the amount of food waste in America. While we might be willing to offer our own food for others to finish, as weird as that may be, would we be willing to take the further step by helping eliminate food waste ourselves by eating someone else’s lunch?

The consensus among those here at KaTom who’ve been talking about this over the last couple days is a resounding, “Ew.” Naturally, there are questions. What if this stranger you’re taking food from has some contagious disease that you catch? What if the food isn’t stored properly and you get sick from eating it? Good questions and ones we suspect the Leftover Swap developers will have to answer.

Leftover Swap co-founders

To do that, one of the innovators of Leftover Swap plans to eat nothing but food offered through the app for the first month it’s in operation. Dan Newman (on the left in picture to right) and Bryan Summersett came up with the idea while studying at the University of Michigan and Newman argues it’s not as bad as some around the office worry, though he knows it won’t be for everyone.

”A lot of people are disgusted at first because they don’t see the whole realm of possibilities,” a quote from Newman in a New York Daily News story reads. “Once they realize they can grab a perfectly good box of mac and cheese from someone cleaning out their cupboard and how fun it will be to snap a picture of the half of a pizza they haven’t eaten, they’ll come around.”

As for our concerns, Newman says Leftover Swap will sort of rely on the hope people don’t want to poison their neighbors or feed them bad chicken parmesan. He’s optimistic the only dishes offered through the app will be ones the “giver” would eat him or her self.

If nothing else, maybe Leftover Swap will start a meaningful discussion about how we use and waste food around the world. Maybe it will spur serious thought about equalizing the availability of nourishing food . And maybe that’s really the point of developing the app. Maybe it’s not actually about strangers swapping doggie bags and eliminating food waste. Maybe it’s about reminding us to be mindful of what we eat and what we waste.

Derek Hodges
Derek Hodges

Derek Hodges is a proud North Carolinian who moved to Tennessee in 2006 to preach the gospel of Cheerwine and mix some Tar Heel blue in with all the orange. He has made wonderful friends who tolerate occasional remarks like those above. He and his wife Amanda enjoy spending weekends at Dollywood and trying to convince their dog Shiloh to get over his fear of swimming.

Connect with Derek Hodges on Google+