food rescue apps (a review)

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During a midnight escapade to my local bakeshop, I learned something sweet: to clear their shelves and reduce food waste, they dramatically slash food prices in the hours before closing.

And it works – I’d know, since I walked out of the shop with a satiated sweet-tooth plus next day’s breakfast. Now, “food rescue” apps are adopting this model to help reduce the walloping quantities of food that go wasted every year (30-40% in America – yikes!).

At a food waste panel a few months ago, I learned about the Food For All app, which lets you buy unsold food from local vendors (e.g. restaurants, bakeries) at steeply discounted prices – up to 80% off.

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Thanks to a food rescue app, this pumpkin muffin ended up in the shadowy depths of my stomach, not the trash can.

Every food vendor has a different policy when it comes to shelf life. As far as I know, the pumpkin muffin I bought using a food rescue app sat on a display platter until I swooped down on it about half an hour before closing. For a dollar and a few taps on my phone, it was scrumptious and (I thought) well worth it.

App technology is making it convenient to implement this waste-reduction initiative. I thought my favorite bakeshop’s weekly midnight pastry-push-outs was the neighborhood’s best kept secret. Now, apps have created a platform to connect these well-meaning efforts to the masses. In no particular order:

Food Rescue & Sharing Apps

App

Locations (as of 12/11/2017)

What it does

Food For All (2017)
  • USA (Boston area)
“Rescue delicious meals before restaurants close, up to 80% cheaper”
Too Good To Go (2015)
  • UK
  • Europe (Denmark, Germany, France, Noway, Switzerland)
  • NYC? (Piloted in 2016, not sure if/when it’s coming back)
“Enjoy delicious takeaway food from local restaurants, cafes bakeries & other stores from as little as £2.”
BuffetGo (2016)
  • Finland
  • USA (Chicago + Various locations in CA, NY, NJ)
“…order takeout meals from your local restaurant with savings up to 90%”
ResQ Club (2015, merged with MealSaver)
  • Europe (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands)
  • Canada (BC)
“Discover and buy meals with your phone or online! Pick up the meal at the restaurant the same day.”
Feedback (2017)
  • Canada (Toronto)
“…a win-win-win solution for vendors, diners and society by offering time-specific promotions on great local food.”
OLIO (2015)
  • Varies! You’ll have to login and check what’s around you at any given time.
“…connects neighbours with each other and with local shops so surplus food and other items can be shared, not thrown away.”

(And there was the now-defunct Cookisto, which connected entrepreneurial homecooks with hungry neighbors!)

Where I live (the US), an estimated 40% our food is wasted every year. This means that food rescue apps have a vast playground at their fingertips. Boston-based’s Food For All has gradually been adding partnerships, with one highlight being that, as of December 2017, all Bolocco locations are on the Food For All app, with all proceeds going to the local food bank. Burrito lovers rejoice! 🙂

My experience with Food For All

On Friday morning, I checked into the app and found a cafe offering discounted pastries not too far from my workplace. Bingo.

Since most city restaurants don’t close until midnight, I wasn’t left with many options if I wanted to grab a dinner during my usual 6-8pm time frame. But this cafe closed at 4pm, which meant I could pick up pastries at 3pm, which is precisely when I’m delirious for afternoon pick-me-up sugar. The app itself is straightforward and easy to navigate, so I quickly booked my “spot” for 3 pastries at a dollar apiece. Then, I waited eagerly at the edge of my chair and daydreamed about pastries until it was time to head out.

Unfortunately the only in-app payment method is credit card. After a recent identity theft and fraudulent charge fiasco, I wasn’t thrilled to be entering my credit card information into another system. Ah well.

Note that there’s no place to cancel in case you can’t make the pick-up. I’m wondering if you can “reschedule” your pick-up for another day, as long as the cashier hasn’t confirmed your pick-up via the nifty green slider button.

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At the bottom of your order page. A simple swipe right lets vendors record your orders as redeemed.

Even as I booked and pre-paid in the morning, I had my doubts about how anyone could guarantee this little cafe had pastries left by afternoon. And if the cafe owner anticipated such a surplus, why haven’t they made internal adjustments to meet more realistic demands? were some of the questions floating around in my head.

By the way: The app doesn’t send a reminder/push notification when your pick-up window begins, so until they change that (if they ever do) I suggest setting your own reminder.

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Alas, the clock struck 3pm, and I giddily skipped out of the office into downtown Cambridge. When I arrived at the cafe, I noticed there was a small sign by the cash register advertising Food For All. When I showed the woman behind the counter my receipt, her immediate reaction was one of enthusiasm, and she proceeded to describe her support for the service and cause. When I asked her how many people had been using the app, she said that she came across an average of 2-3 people per week, but that the numbers were slowly building up. She was obviously very supportive of their partnership with FFA.

At half an hour before closing, there were four kinds of pastries to choose from including an uncomfortable amount of bran muffins. Soon I was out the door, pastries in tow. Success!

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One question on my mind was, what would’ve happened to the unsold food if it weren’t being “rescued” through apps like Food For All? It varies from place to place. I’ve read that while some restaurants deliver unsold food to food banks, the logistics (transportation, timing) and lack of people/vehicles can make this step inefficient or unfeasible. Luckily there are growing food recovery efforts like the Food Recovery Network and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, which loop in volunteers to make the restaurant-to-soup kitchen deliveries possible. Furthermore, many of the food rescue apps have portals to where users can donate money or a meal to local food banks.

My overall feeling is that this is a smart and simple way for food vendors to cushion costs and manage supply/demand, in addition to being an easy and budget-friendly way for anyone to grab a bite. Apps like this are particularly excellent for students, people who want to eat out on a budget, people who work late, people who aren’t particularly choosy about meals, and restless office workers with a strong affinity for bran muffins. The next time I have a long day ahead, at least I’ll already know my dinner plans.

P.S. After using Food For All for a few months, I’ll note that sometimes the app stops loading properly (e.g. Home page goes blank), but a simple logout and re-login seems to do the trick!

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journey to zero waste: the kitchen edition

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Barbie was wrong. Life in plastic – is not fantastic. While it was fun to shoot this photo of me literally drowning in plastic, it’s scarily representative of my life.

A year ago, I learned about the zero waste lifestyle through “Trash is for Tossers” blogger Lauren Singer, who can fit 4 years of her trash into a 16 oz. mason jar. Four years of trash. In one little glass jar. 

To fathom how this is possible, it’s important to understand that living zero waste doesn’t mean creating no waste. Instead, it means generating as little waste as possible; and when there is waste, it’s recycled or composted, not shipped away to a landfill.

While I want to live zero waste for myself and the environment, obviously, it’s not an overnight operation. That’s why I have created this blog: to document and share my efforts, and to say hello to anyone on a similar journey. Starting with my kitchen, I want to share with you five major areas where I – and anyone – can easily perform waste liposuction.

400 plastic bags vs. 1 reusable bag

Plastic bags are the herpes of plastic pollution. They end up everywhere – crumpled up in dark corners of your home, stuck in trees, even floating like lifeless swans down the local river. The average American uses more than 400 plastic grocery bags a year. What if we could use the same bag, 400 times?

Perhaps you live somewhere where you receive a discount for every reusable bag you bring. In some places, grocery stores no longer provide bags, so customers must bring their own.

Where I live, plastic bags are everywhere, and we can return them to the store to be recycled. But I’ve simplified my life even more with reusable bags. They’re not only versatile, but also much sturdier. They won’t tear and send your precious cargo crashing to the pavement. (R.I.P. eggs)

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The bag saga continues

Even though I bid grocery bags goodbye, I was still accumulating those (flimsy af) produce bags – you know, the thin tear-off-the-roll bags that keep your apples separate from the oranges.

So I bought reusable produce bags from Purifyou and Earthwise. They’re machine-washable and weigh the same as plastic ones (0.6 oz) so you don’t have to ask the cashier to tare them when they’re weighing your fruits and vegetables. They’re so convenient that I bought 2 sets for my family as Christmas gifts.

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Breaking up with plastic wrap

Plastic wrap was like a bad boyfriend: Too clingy. Funny-smelling. Touched my food too much. Thankfully, it was absolutely replaceable.

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I suck at ripping plastic wrap.

Every day, I would stretch plastic wrap over my leftovers, zap it in the microwave and watch in apprehension as it softened into a greasy film over my food.

I would also microwave food in plastic tupperware, but turns out even BPA-free plastic is likely leeching hormone-disrupting chemicals into food.

To store and microwave food, I use tempered glass bowls with rubber lids. They’re sturdy, microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe AND oven-safe. I store all leftovers in these and have even frozen homemade ice cream and baked cakes in them.

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Then, there’s bee’s wrap, a “natural” plastic wrap made of beeswax-soaked cotton. It works for covering bowls and wrapping oddly-shaped things like bread and cheese. It’s a great concept, although the material is a bit stiff and you can’t microwave it.

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Is anyone else going zero waste, or currently living zero waste? I would love to connect with you and hear your story. In particular, I want to know: what do you do with your food scraps? I’m still figuring out how to compost at home, especially when there’s a thick layer of snow on the ground (New Englander problems)!

Next up on Journey to Zero Waste:
The Baker’s Edition