Eat, Drink and Be Wary: New App Wants You to Swap Your Leftover Dinner With Strangers

Forget that one-night stand: The newest frontier in promiscuity may be trading yesterday’s takeout.

Don't let that carton of Chinese rot in the back of the fridge again, try LeftoverSwap. (Photo: ginnerobot/Flickr)

Jul 30, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Is the solution to the food-waste problem in America for all of us to start swapping our doggie bags with perfect strangers?

That’s the radical (or comical…or nauseating…) premise behind LeftoverSwap, a soon-to-launch app that purports to connect the overstuffed with the underfed. How it works is ridiculously simple. Or maybe just ridiculous, since it basically asks users to overcome the seemingly natural and—am I crazy here?—rational repugnance of dipping your fork into food where the fork of some person you don’t actually know has already been.

Think of it as Grindr for the culinarily promiscuous.

Here’s LeftoverSwap’s pitch for “leftover givers”:

“You’re stuffed. You can’t take another bite, but there’s so much left on your plate. You hate the idea of throwing out food, but also don’t want to be eating the same leftovers for the next few days. We understand. You want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and fertilizer as well. We also understand that. Snap a picture of what you can’t eat, name it, and share the rest of your meal. Your neighbors are hungry.”

And for “leftover takers”:

“You’re hungry. And cheap. We understand. You also care about reducing waste, and want to build relationships within your community. We also understand those things. Simply fire up LeftoverSwap, view the available leftovers around you, make your selection, and arrange for pick-up or delivery. Your cheap, local, and community-oriented meal is waiting.”

To cast a dubious eye toward LeftoverSwap is not to deny that the issue of food waste is a massive problem in the U.S. Indeed, the website for the app cites the stat du jour on the topic: A staggering 40 percent of the food we produce goes to waste. I imagine that comes from a report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council last year, which goes on to translate all that waste into a dollar figure—$165 billion worth of food trashed each year—and an environmental cost: “25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land.”

Worldwide, the United Nations (which has launched its own initiative to combat food waste) estimates that 1.3 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted each year.

But let’s put aside the argument that trading your leftover moo shu pork with local strangers is not really likely to make much of a dent in an issue that has as much to do—if not more—with agricultural subsidies and supply-chain inefficiencies as it does with whether you get around to reheating your week-old takeout. Essentially, to commit to swapping your leftovers to combat food waste is akin to taking a personal stand against global warming by forswearing your wood-burning fireplace while still getting your electricity from old coal-fired power plants.

Instead, let’s ponder whether LeftoverSwap is for real. Because as any fan of Portlandia knows, progressive culture is all too ripe for parody. (Like, remember that episode where Fred and Carrie try to whip up a dinner party from what they’ve collected dumpster diving?)

First, there’s the strange “benefits” section of the LeftoverSwap website itself, and its weird and seemingly nonsensical mix of statistics. The stats themselves might be true (“70 percent of us are overweight”) or dubious (“25 percent of us don’t know our neighbors’ names”), but how exactly these are supposed to add up to the fact that “LeftoverSwap solves all of these problems” remains perplexing. As does the bar graph, which somehow has the use of LeftoverSwap tied to a 75 percent drop in fossil fuel use by 2016 and an almost 100 percent increase in the population of Northern Spotted Owls.

Where does the joke end, exactly?

The public pronouncements of LeftoverSwap founder Dan Newman don’t really help answer that question. To wit: “There is hunger in the United States. Do those people have iPhones? Maybe not. But we’re hoping to test this with iOS and potentially reach out to other platforms.” (Click here to find out whether that quote appeared in The Huffington Post or The Onion.)

Joke or not, LeftoverSwap appears to do little to address the fundamental problem when it comes to leftovers: If we can’t even be persuaded to open our own Styrofoam boxes in the back of the fridge, why in the world would we want to open someone else’s?