Are leftovers the next Facebook? It could happen if Shareyourmeal, a leftover-exchange social media site that aims to reduce food waste and bring neighbors together, keeps growing. Read on for more information about this innovative (yet old-school) idea for connecting and cooking in the modern age.

Photo: Kate Morin

What’s the Deal?

In March 2012, Dutch couple Marieke Hart and Jan Thij Bakker smelled something delicious coming from their next-door neighbor’s grill. Intrigued and hungry, they grabbed a few Euros and plates and rang the doorbell. To their pleasant surprise, the neighbor (who Hart and Bakker had never met despite living next door for three years) traded them some delicious eats for their moolah, and a friendly relationship was born.

After experiencing the community-building power of food firsthand, Hart and Bakker wanted to share their findings with the world. So they developed Shareyourmeal, a website designed to connect hungry folks all over the Netherlands with their leftover-laden neighbors. Right now, the site is hugely popular in Amsterdam, where thousands of participants have exchanged tens of thousands of meals. Hart and Bakker are planning a major Shareyourmeal push in New York City and San Francisco, but it’s already spreading grassroots-style throughout the country with at least a few meal sharers in each major city.

So how does it work? Let’s say someone made too much macaroni last night. The leftover-laden cook registers his or her dish on the site, including details such as ingredients, number of portions, price per portion, and time and date the cook will be available for someone to pick up the meal. Registered eaters (aka “foodies”) get regular e-mails listing the meals available in their area. If a particular curry or veggie dish strikes someone’s fancy, they click “order,” which sends an email to the cook. If the arrangement works for the cook, they confirm the pick-up date via email and provide additional instructions (BYO thermos, etc.) and contact information. When it’s time for the actual exchange, the foodie brings the agreed-upon price in cash, the appropriate containers, and of course, compliments to the chef! To keep everyone safe, healthy, and satisfied, the website has established a specific protocol and a few rules for sharing leftovers (i.e., no scraps of rice and beans or questionable chicken allowed).

Why it Matters

Food is way more than sustenance — it represents community, friendship, learning, and social connectivity. Hart and Bakker started Shareyourmeal because they experienced firsthand how something as simple as sharing a meal brought them closer to their neighbors. These days, especially in big cities, most people don’t know the people on the other side of the fence (or apartment building, as the case may be). We already know that eating with friends helps people stay healthy and socially connected. Shareyourmeal seems like a multitasking solution to many food-related issues: It reduces food waste by sharing leftovers with others, helps foster community relationships by introducing neighbors to one another, and introduces people to new, potentially healthy recipes by expanding social networks.

Plus, the biz has helped loosen taboos on sharing food, inspiring similar endeavors around the world. For example, Dan Newman and Bryan Summersett recently founded LeftoverSwap, an app that helps overzealous chefs share their extra food with friends and neighbors. The iPhone app is scheduled for release at the end of August.

Would you join Shareyourmeal to trade leftovers and meet new people? Why or why not? Tell us your opinion in the comments below or tweet the author @SophBreene.

Originally published on May 5, 2013. Reposted August 2013.