OLIO: Join the Food Sharing Revolution

Written by: Violet Myers

We’ve all done it.

After yet another squalid weekend of gastronomical filth, eye watering cholesterol and questionable lifestyle choices we decide to make amends with our bodies. We march ourselves down the fresh produce aisle and fill our basket with enough fruit and veg to kill an international PETA convention. Mountains of pears (which we’re really not keen on) a kilo of carrots (which we’re pretty sure we’re allergic to) and a family size pack of pineapples (not even Carmen Miranda needed six), only to find our untouched good intentions have started to resemble props from the Alien franchise within a week. With a heavy heart and our mother’s words ringing in our ears “there are starving children in Africa you know” we bin it.

Well, in the words of Michael Jackson, you are not alone. Food waste is a growing economic, environmental and social problem in the UK, with people reporting they feel physically pained when they are forced to discard food that was very recently edible.

If we step back and look at the scale of the problem, at least a third or even half of food that is grown is never eaten.

“People hear a lot of stories right now in the press about the supermarkets, that food waste is their responsibility, but the reality is that all retail waste only equates to 2% of food waste. We need to take responsibility for what happens in our homes.” Explains Saasha, who is the joint founder of food sharing app OLIO. She and her business partner Tessa launched the app in July 2015 after being inspired a dilemma faced by Tessa when she relocated back to North London.

“The whole idea for it came when Tessa was moving house. She was living abroad and was moving back. She had some food that was going to be left in the flat and she had this huge dilemma about what to do with it. She ended up smuggling it back into the country because she didn’t want to leave it there. Which seems absurd, right? Obviously there would have been someone back in Switzerland who would have loved to have her food but she just didn’t know them. So we thought of this brilliant idea.”

The app is basically Craiglist’s for food, but with slightly less plums and much healthier bananas… Users can choose to list their spare food, in order to give it away to a peckish neighbour, or scour the listings and score some unwanted munch. Saasha, who lives in Crouch End with her family, tells me that the app has grown remarkably in the short time since it went live.

“We’ve had 35,000 downloads, 40% of which are in London. 5,000 items have been added in total and our average transaction rate is around 70%.”

We’ve had caviar, black truffle oil and a rare bottle of wine, but my favourite item has been homegrown tomatoes. It doesn’t sound like the sexiest item, but for those who don’t have an allotment or a garden it’s something people value.

But scrolling through the app I was dubious. There’s no denying that the idea is fantastic; I identified with the shame of sending perfectly good food to landfill and scoring a free snack really spoke to my inner cheapskate, but would it really work? Do people really care enough to travel up to 5km for a pack of sugar? Saasha met my cynicism with a challenge: go home, register and give it a go, she assured me it would work.

Still a little hesitant, I rooted around in my fruit bowl and finding a couple of bananas, that were supposed to star in a banana bread that never happened, a slightly sad lime and a mysterious danish pastry, I assembled a still-life worthy of Cézanne, took a photo and sent it off into the OLIO universe. Within half an hour Frank was at my door. We shook hands he took my bag and with that he cycled off into the distance, plenty of fruit based fun ahead of him. The system worked.

I was wonderfully surprised at how well the app worked. It was simple, well designed and even pretty exciting (I assume it’s a bit like using Grindr for food enthusiasts). It’s sure to go from strength to strength as the word spreads, so believe the hype and join the food revolution. I’m now a fully fledged convert.

Photos: Mike Barry

Download OLIO today via the App Store and follow them on Twitter.

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