Home Tech I spent a week eating discarded restaurant food. But was it really being wasted?

I spent a week eating discarded restaurant food. But was it really being wasted?

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 I spent a week eating discarded restaurant food. But was it really being wasted?

It’s 10pm on a Wednesday night and I’m standing in Blessed, a takeaway in south London, half listening to a customer talk seriously about Jesus. I nod, trying to pay attention as reggae blares from the small yellow front of the store. But really, all I can think about is: What’s in the bag?

Today’s bag is blue plastic. A smiling man passes it over the counter. Only when I break free from the religious lecture and get home do I discover what’s inside: salted Caribbean fish, white rice, vegetables, and a cup of thick, brown porridge.

All week I’ve been living off mystery packages like this, delivered to cafes, takeaways and restaurants across London. Inside is food that was once destined for the container. Instead, I rescued it by using Too Good To Go, a Danish app that is gaining popularity and bestselling. 120 million meals last year and expanding rapidly in the U.S. For five days, I decided to divert my weekly food budget to eating exclusively through the app, paying between £3 and £6 (about $4 to $8) for meals that They range from a handful of cakes to a giant box of groceries, in an attempt to understand what a tech company can teach me about food waste in my own city.

Users who open the TGTG app are presented with a list of establishments that either have leftover food right now or expect to have it in the near future. A brief description of the restaurant, a price and hours are provided. Users pay through the app, but this is not a delivery service. Grab bags (customers only have a vague idea of ​​what’s inside before purchasing) must be picked up in person.

I begin my experiment at 9:30 on Monday morning, in the gleaming lobby of the Novotel Hotel, just steps from the River Thames. Of all the breakfast options available the night before, this was the most convenient – on the way to my office and offering a pick-up slot, meaning I can make it to my 10am meeting. When I say I’m here for TGTG, a dressed receptionist nods and points to the breakfast buffet. This branch of the Novotel is a £200 a night hotel, but the staff don’t seem to skimp on the £4.50 entry fee I paid for leftover breakfast. One homeless charity tells me their clients like the app for precisely that reason; Cheap food, without stigma. A waiter politely hands me my white plastic surprise bag with two Styrofoam boxes inside, as if I were just another guest.

I open the boxes in my office. One is filled with mini pastries, while the other is brimming with full English. Two fried eggs on top of a mountain of scrambled eggs. Four sausages fight for space among a crowd of mushrooms. I begin to eat diligently: a bite of cold fried egg, a bite of mushrooms, and the four sausages. I finish with a croissant. This is enough to make me feel intensely full, borderline sick, so I donate the croissants to the office kitchen and throw the rest in the trash. It seems like a disappointing start. I’m supposed to salvage leftover food, not throw it away.

For the next two days, I live as a forager in my city, shaping my days around the trucks. I walk and bike to cafes, restaurants, markets, supermarkets; to familiar places and places I had never noticed. Some grab bags last only for one meal, others can stretch for days. On Tuesday morning, my £3.59 grab bag includes a small cake and a slightly stale loaf of sourdough, which serves as breakfast for three more days. When I return to the same cafe the following week, without using the app, the bread is only £6.95.

TGTG was founded in Copenhagen in 2015 by a group of Danish entrepreneurs who were upset by the amount of food being wasted at all-you-can-eat buffets. Their idea to reuse that waste quickly took off and the scope of the application expanded to include restaurants and supermarkets. A year after the company was founded, Mette Lykke was sitting on a bus when a woman showed her the app and how it worked. She was so impressed that she approached the company to ask if she could help. Lykke has been CEO for six years.

“I just hate wasting resources,” he says. “It was just this win-win concept.” For her, restaurants win because they get paid for food that they would otherwise have thrown away; The client wins because she gets a good deal and at the same time discovers new places; and the environment wins because, she says, food waste contributes 10 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions. When discarded food rots in a landfill, it releases methane to the atmosphere, with homes and restaurants being the two largest contributors.

But the app doesn’t leave me with the impression that I’m saving the planet. Instead, I feel more like I’m on a daily scavenger hunt for discounted groceries. On Wednesday, TGTG takes me to a railroad arch that serves as a warehouse for grocery delivery app Gorillas. Before even uttering the words “Too good to go,” a teenager with overgrown bangs silently emerges from the alleys of shelves with tonight’s bag: groceries, many days from expiration, that suspiciously add up to create a Complete meal for two people. For £5.50 I get fresh pasta, pesto, cream, bacon, leeks and a bag of sautéed vegetables, which my husband combines into a single (delicious) pasta dish. It feels too convenient to be a real waste. Maybe Gorillas is trying to make me his own client? When I ask its parent company, Getir, how selling food on time helps combat food waste, the company does not respond to my email.

I’m still thinking about my experience with Gorillas at lunchtime on Thursday as I follow the app’s instructions to the Wowshee falafel market stall, where 14 other people are already lining up on the street. After some casual conversations, I realize I’m one of at least four TGTG users in line. Seeing so many of us in one place again makes me wonder if restaurants are just using the app as a form of advertising. But Wowshee owner Ahmed El Shimi describes the marketing benefits as just a “small advantage.” For him, the main attraction of the application is that it helps reduce waste. “In any case, we can sell the product that we were going to throw away,” he says. “And at the same time saves the environment.” Shimi, who says he sells about 20 grab bags a day, estimates that using TGTG reduces the amount of food wasted at the stall by about 60 percent. When I pay £5 for two portions of falafel (which lasts me for lunch and dinner), the company receives £3.75 before tax, says El Shimi. “It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.”

On Friday, my last day of the experiment, everything falls apart. I sleep badly and wake up late. The bread from earlier in the week is rock solid. I eat several mini apple pies for breakfast, which were part of a generous £3.09 haul from Morrison’s supermarket the night before. Browsing the app, nothing appeals to me, and even if it did, I’m too tired to leave the house to pick it up. After four days of eating nothing but waste food, I break down and seek solace in familiar ingredients buried in my pantry: two fried eggs with my favorite brand of seeded whole wheat bread.

TGTG is not a solution for convenience. For me, the app is an answer to the discomfort during lunch at the office. It got me out of my lazy routine and helped me eat well (in central London) on a £5 budget. In line to buy falafel, I met another app user who told me that, before discovering the app, she ate the same sandwich from the same supermarket for lunch every day. For people without access to a kitchen, it offers a connection to an underworld where hot food is scarce.

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