Seattle entrepreneur Dan Newman says he and a few friends conceived the idea for LeftoverSwap a few years ago, on a night they ordered way too much pizza and couldn't fit the rest in the fridge. "We were like, 'We don't want to throw this out, and it would just be great to broadcast that we have extra pizza to share,'" he says.
The idea started to take shape after Newman hosted a couch surfer in his apartment who was a "freegan" — meaning he only feasted from other people's plates. "That was enough to spark initiative in me," Newman says.
After a little more research, he found that humans actually waste tons of food — up to 40 percent of what we produce, according to stats repurposed on his website.
To Newman, the most effective solution lay in modern technology. His AirBnB-style app, projected to launch this fall, would connect overzealous diners to hungry consumers within the same zip code. Selling your leftovers is simple: Just snap a picture with your smartphone, name your price, and arrange for a pick-up.
Naturally, the idea didn't find favor with Richard Lee of the San Francisco Health Department. Leftover food is a huge source of food-borne illnesses, he says. And in this case, there would be no way for officials to trace the source; they wouldn't know who originally produced the food and under what conditions. The Health Department discourages homeless people from eating food left on top of garbage cans for those exact reasons.
"Let's say everything was on the up-and-up," Lee says. "The people might not have washed their hands. They might be diseased." He added that most dishes become disease vectors once they've been left out for four hours or longer. San Franciscans who sell food without a permit could incur hefty citations — potentially a couple thousand dollars, or three times the original permitting fee. LeftoverSwap could face a much stiffer crackdown than the ones on Uber and Lyft for operating without state-issued livery licenses.
But Newman dismissed those anxieties in an e-mail, arguing that the company will provide "common sense" guidelines to users, urging them to reheat food properly and check to see if it's perishable. The site's credo, in a nutshell, is "don't give (or sell) anything thing you wouldn't eat yourself."
Well, he's right about one thing: 99 percent of us don't need that second helping of beef lo mein.