Review: Too Good To Go, the app that offers food deals to reduce waste

When I was 12 years old, I had a brief and listless career as a babysitter. I counted the minutes until the children went to bed and I was able to comply with their parents’ offer: eat the snacks you like. I don’t remember the money I made or the families I worked for, but I do remember the thrill of opening other people’s kitchen cabinets to find a plethora of surprise treats.

Surprise snacks are one of life’s little delights—and little motivators. Now, in a bid to reduce food waste, an app is using the lure of cheap and unexpected food to motivate consumers to buy items that restaurants would throw away. Too Good To Go, which launched in 2015 in the UK and has since raised more than $45 million in funding, allows users to buy “blind bags” of food that would otherwise be marked for trash in restaurants and other local businesses. Each purchase, typically between $3 and $6, is described as “rescuing”: customers get the chance to make sure they “eat good food,” while businesses get the chance to recoup sunk costs and find new customers. The app’s marketing notes that 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to food waste and claims to have saved “164 million meals” in its six years of operation (a company representative says that the app defines a meal as a surprise bag). In an era of inflation and higher food costs, the app also touts the fact that it helps customers buy groceries at one-third the cost of retail.

In Los Angeles, where the service launched last month to much fanfare, it’s hard to put together a full Too Good To Go meal. The app is currently populated mostly with coffee shops, donut shops, bakeries, bakeries, bagel shops, and the occasional pizza place (a rep says the company is actively recruiting new shops, which they do via phone or email to “get great conversations with businesses about the food waste problem.) As a meal, a donut or croissant is usually not enough, but as food waste, baked goods desperately need “rescue” as they don’t last more than a day , and many bakeries err on the side of keeping boxes full even if demand doesn’t hold up. Right now in L.A., the app largely functions as a virtuous excuse to eat cakes. I was more than up for the challenge.

For my first pickup, I selected El Mana’s Bakery in Koreatown, which specializes in Salvadoran sweet bread, which I had never tried before. After circling the block one too many times trying to find parking, I turned on my blinkers and ducked inside just before the end of my 7pm pickup window. closing of the day: afternoons for bakeries or late at night for pizzerias or the few participating restaurants). The bakery also sells to wholesalers, and two men inside were already loading a delivery truck. As I presented my app screen, a slightly bewildered clerk called his boss and asked what cakes he would give me, stuffing a bag as he wandered around the store on the phone. My loot was enormous: cookies, sweet and simple little pieces similar to croissants and slices of a cake filled with jam called semita pacha; the pacha was especially satisfying, dense with a filling of sweet jam that could have been fig, like an especially decadent Newton.

Next, I tried to pick up some real food waste. One vegan frozen yogurt place, Yoga-Urt, which has three locations, offered a 5-pound bag of almond pulp, which consists of the leftover almonds used to make milk. It’s basically a moist almond flour, and there are many recipes to use it, ranging from promising (brownie balls) to horrible (almond pulp hummus). To keep things from veering into wellness territory, I also stopped at Angelino’s Donuts near Echo Park. For a third of the normal price, I received a full dozen donuts packaged in a box, including a large apple fritter.

It was around this time that “rescuing food waste” started to seem more complicated. This abundance of cheap cakes underscored the amount of food waste being produced daily in Los Angeles, a fact I know intellectually but felt deeply when I saw how little of a dent my purchases were making: When I walked out of El Mana’s, there were still lots of sweet bread filled. shelves; the donut shop pastry box was half full at 4 pm, hours after the morning donut rush. The other problem was that food waste hadn’t been eliminated so much as transferred from the businesses to me, and it was hard not to waste it myself. My household is two, and we were piling up a lot of pies. I put the Salvadoran margarita cookies and some of the leftover sweet bits out front for the kids leaving our local elementary school and took my second of two semita pachas to a friend’s house. After sampling a couple of Angelino’s donuts, I texted my neighbors and asked if their teenage kids would like the rest (the answer is always yes). I used a cup of almond pulp to make a few vaguely chocolaty date-coconut brownie bites, which were satisfying, but there’s still a nearly full bag of pulp in my freezer.

My Too Good To Go account says I’ve “saved” six bags of food and 33 pounds of CO2e, but that’s only if I didn’t throw away any of the food I picked up. I have to confess: I did. The blind bag from DK’s Donuts, a delicious and Instagrammable donut shop in Santa Monica, came with six stale donuts from the night before, stuffed into a bag smeared with camera-ready frosting, of which we ate one and a half and didn’t I don’t have the heart to offer it to anyone else. A collection of leftover bread from Santa Monica’s Lady & Larder cheese shop fueled a huge cheese plate and some sandwiches, though this required me to spend real money on pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese and honey mustard pickles. But by the third day, the sliced ​​bread had gone moldy (should have put some in the freezer).

Instead of making me feel like I was doing the world good, Too Good To Go made me feel terrible about both the state of food waste and myself. Maybe that’s useful. It’s a crime that we don’t have a good system to sell all this extra food cheaply or to give it away. But my blind bag salvage spree didn’t feel like it I was that solution. To alleviate this guilt and discomfort, I clicked on the app’s “give to charity” option, hoping that I could give away some of this surplus food to people who needed it more than me. But you can’t gift grab bags from within the app; instead, you can give money to a local charity for food waste. A representative for the app says this charity option is available because, as part of its overall mission, it “makes it a priority to work hand in hand with partners fighting food insecurity and hunger in the US.”

The app has two uses from what I can tell; one sensible, another a little more frivolous. If you were having a large group of people and wanted to give them treats on the cheap, using it to go to a donut shop or bakery might be a great option, and it might help save a few donuts from the landfill. Obviously, this move would be much more useful for people with larger families or households. On TikTok, many 20-year-olds open their Too Good To Go orders with glee, and if you were still living with four other roommates, this app would be a great way to bribe them not to get so mad. dishes in the sink again.

The other, more frivolous use is as a means of discovery, or even indulgence. The sheer unpredictability of what I would get in my blind bags made using Too Good To Go alternately charming and disappointing, but often fun. In other words, these bags are a classic intermittent reward, the same kind that keeps rats pushing levers and us scrolling through social media. Using the app in this way could help businesses recoup some food costs, but for me at least, it didn’t stop food waste. I purposely don’t buy two loaves or a dozen donuts for two people, because I’d probably end up wasting them. My desire to buy the same amount of food at a low price resembled the general logic of sales: stores put them up not to clear out merchandise, but because they entice consumers to buy things they wouldn’t otherwise want or need. There’s nothing wrong with day-old pies on sale. But the lofty marketing of Too Good To Go (the company says its ambition is to “contribute as much as we can to building the global food waste movement”) doesn’t align with my experience.

That being said, the deals are hard to resist, and I’m sorry for those abandoned donuts. I’m sure I’ll continue to open the app in Los Angeles in hopes of scoring especially well, even if I can’t fool myself into thinking I’m doing more than betting pies and hoping for an especially good surprise.

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