The food-sharing revolution is fighting food waste. Can we overcome 'the yuck factor'?


Although a lot is being done to tackle the issue of food waste - such as supermarkets loosening rules on "blemish-free fruit" - it remains a massive problem. In the UK, 15m tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year and consumers throw away 4.2m tonnes of edible food. Nearly 12 weeks worth of groceries are thrown away each year by the average family in the UK (source - The Guardian’s visual guide to food waste). 

One solution that is presenting itself in many forms across a variety of developed countries is community food-sharing

Back in 2013 two roommates at the University of Michigan developed the Leftoverswap app which lets you offer your leftovers to locals, who sign up to be notified when there's free food to be had in their area. In Germany the non-profit organisation aim to connect those who have edible goods to give away with those who want them. Many initiatives alike have followed.

The app OLIO launched in July 2015 - and now has a quarter of a million users - is gaining popularity in London and beyond. Much like Leftoverswap, it is a free app that "connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This could be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away. For your convenience, OLIO can also be used for non-food household items too. To make an item available, simply open the app, add a photo, description, and when and where the item is available for pick-up”. 

Food sharing done in this way is perhaps the most social practice of self-consciously "sharing" communities: it offers a chance for neighbours, who before were strangers, to meet and connect.

And OLIO users report that they really enjoy this part of the experience. One user says: "It has been really nice to have 3 different neighbours come to collect at our house – including one who lives just across the street!". Another reports: "The ‘social’ side of the app really impresses me. I have been able to meet some really lovely neighbours and explore new places in town".

Although early adopters are enthusiastic about food sharing, it is clearly not for everyone. The uncertainty of the hygiene and quality of strangers' leftovers does present challenges. 

The question is whether enough people will take a risk and overcome 'the yuck factor' the same way they overcame their hesitation about having strangers using their spare bedroom.

Would you consider sharing food with strangers?