Globally, 30 to 50 percent of all food produced is lost or wasted between crop and plate—that's between 1.2 and 2 billion tons. Personally, each of us in the United States and Europe is responsible for trashing between 200 and 400 pounds a year of completely usable food—by contrast, in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia, people waste only 12 to 20 pounds a year.
A lot of the solution has to do with better tracking and auditing of processes by farms, grocers, restaurants, and trucking and shipping companies. But between the refrigerator and the garbage disposal, the consumer-side food surplus could be an opportunity for the new sharing economy. Just like Airbnb lets you rent out unused space in your home, and Lyft and Sidecar let you rent unused time in your car, and ThredUp lets you pass along unused clothing, could a website help you get rid of unused, but still edible food? Sounds kind of gross, but there are four sites that are trying to do just that.
Ampleharvest.org connects home gardeners with food pantries and has given away more than 20 million tons of produce. That's a lot of zucchini!
Casserole is a tiny site currently operating in two towns in the county of Surrey, England. It allows home cooks to give away extra portions of a meal they are cooking. So far the site is serving a number of elderly people—like a peer to peer Meals on Wheels.
Foodsharing is a German site, just launched, that allows individuals, retailers, farmers, and restaurants to post and give away unused food.
Taking a different approach, Le Loca is an app that allows restaurants with unused seats (and unused portions of lasagna) to offer steep last-minute discounts to eager diners.
Peer-to-peer shareable food networks face some obvious health and legal issues, and maybe a squickiness element as well—have you seen your neighbor's kitchen floor? But many of these startups see it as a path to promote stronger neighborhood connections. There's no better way to make friends than by passing around a plate.
[Stacked Food Image: Llaszlo via Shutterstock]