A site offering leftovers for sale designed to eliminate food waste overseas is making its way to the United States. But would you eat a stranger’s food?
Apparently, there are places in the world where it seems perfectly acceptable to go online and buy food made by people you’ve never heard of from a home you’ve never been to and in a kitchen you’ve never seen.
The Dutch website ShareYourMeal.net was designed to connect hungry diners with locals who have plenty of leftovers to sell them. And at least in the Netherlands, reports ABC News, the site has gone gangbusters: “thousands of participants have exchanged more than 73,000 meals”.
The site is about to make its United States debut in the New York and San Francisco markets.
The site is a non-profit organization that doesn’t allow restaurants to participate: it’s only about home-cooked meals and using food families have already prepared so that it doesn’t go to waste. I can definitely respect that; reports estimate that between 30 to 50% of the food produced on the planet is wasted because it never makes its way to our stomachs. That’s a certainly dire view of humanity’s capacity for waste.
One of the biggest appeals, say supporters of the site, is that it promotes community building among food lovers who’d have never met (unless, of course, they might have bumped into each other inside a real restaurant).
Well that’s nice. There’s no argument there.
But if I were a customer, the real thing I’d be focused on, much more than any altruistic goal toward saving the world’s food supply from being wasted, is the basic hygiene of the people who cook these options and the safety of the food itself.
The site offers a long list of guidelines for would-be participants. They’re mostly cooking basics, like “Don’t use expired foods”  and “Make sure your kitchen surfaces are clean”. But the sheer number of guidelines posted for absolutely the right reason make me that much more skeptical as a potential customer for a site like this, because I have to ask myself if some stranger around the corner would actually bother to follow them.
Here’s where someone might argue that I don’t really know what’s going on inside a restaurant’s kitchen. And on any given night, they’re absolutely correct. We compensate for this, however, with state-managed kitchen inspections that involve trained health department examiners touring restaurant kitchens and making sure the environment for food production is safe. Too many errors or failures can result in a restaurant actually being shut down.
If I’m honest, though the food I cook has never once made me sick, my kitchen would not pass a state health inspection. That may be one thing since I’m cooking for me and the dog. But I’d have a major problem offering my leftovers to someone else. And I know of very few people whose kitchen is routinely clean enough that I’d absolutely trust the food that comes from there 24/7. (I do know a few, but not many.)
If this site somehow does go national, I don’t think it’s one I’d be visiting.
What do you think of this idea? Is any idea designed to prevent food waste a good idea, or do you see big problems with this? Would you be tempted to give this site a try, or avoid it like salmonella?