There are few things in life I love more than a good deal. Two things that come close, however, are small surprises and finding ways to reduce waste. In the U.S., 40 percent of all food sold is never consumed, and an estimated 68 percent of the food that’s thrown out is actually perfectly edible. I’m a prime candidate for dumpster diving for that reason, but I’m terribly afraid of getting in trouble or encountering bugs. Fortunately, there’s an app that allows me to indulge in all three of my interests — deals, surprises and reducing waste — without having to actually climb in a dumpster.
TooGoodToGo connects restaurants and grocery stores that have leftover food with customers willing to pay a deep discount to take it off their hands. There are currently 146,343 businesses using TooGoodToGo, most of which are on the East Coast and Europe. On the app, you’re presented with a list of vendors selling “surprise bags,” typically ranging from $3.50 to $5 each. Usually, you’ll be told whether the surprise bag contains something like bread and pastries, hot bar items, vegetarian items or the like, but it’s often extremely vague. In most cases, it’s indeed a surprise what you’ll get. In some cases, you might not like it all that much.
Part of the catch of the app, besides the surprise element, is that most places have a very specific time window in which they sell their bags. A local Mediterranean spot, for example, doesn’t sell their surprise bags until after midnight, right before they close — so if you want it, you’ve got to wait. Some places have windows of several hours in which their goods are available, others only half an hour. On top of that, most restaurants also have just a limited number of bags available, meaning you have to check the app early if you’re eying a specific spot. Overall, this just adds to that element of surprise — not only do you not know what’s going to be in your specific bag, but you don’t even know exactly what you’ll see available when you open the app, either.
While I’d dabbled with the app casually on prior occasions, I decided to spend an entire workweek gathering my dinners through TooGoodToGo. For all those aforementioned factors above, it wasn’t easy. But it was cheap, and hopefully, I saved some food from ending up in a landfill. Here’s what I ate…
Location: Black Seed Bagels
Bag Contents: Six bagels, two condiment cups of cream cheese
How It Went Down: I kept things super easy at the start. I knew TooGoodToGo was a great way to acquire bagels, and in the past I’d gotten a baker’s dozen of fresh bagels from them for around $5. I’m happy to eat bagels for dinner, so I decided to go that route again. I chose a spot I hadn’t been to because their listing specified I could receive spreads in addition to baked goods. They gave me six bagels and two teensie cups of cream cheese. It was certainly less than what I’d previously received from bagel spots, but no biggie. One bagel with cream cheese there costs around the same, so I got a deal, and they were delicious.
Location: Gorillas Grocery Delivery
How It Went Down: Gorillas, a food delivery service, happened to have a bag available, so I nabbed it for $4.99. I did have to plan ahead on this, though, as their pickup window closed at 2 p.m. Inside the bag, I received the aforementioned head of cabbage, lemon, banana, yogurt parfait, tomato and grapefruit LaCroix.
What the fuck kind of dinner could I put together with that? I decided to just eat another bagel, with the yogurt parfait. Notably, with the exception of the parfait, which expired in a day or two, everything else looked perfectly sellable. I can’t imagine why these items couldn’t have just gone with their regular grocery selection, but that’s the mystery of food waste in this country — much of it is perfectly good and edible. While I didn’t make dinner out of this selection, I was still happy with it.
Location: Original Square of Soho
Bag Contents: Two slices of pizza (I ended up buying two surprise bags)
How It Went Down: Original Square of Soho had a generous availability window of 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., meaning I could easily get pizza right at dinner time. For $3.99, I got two slices of “Soho”-style square pizza, a thicker variety than the usual NYC slice. Generally, their slices start at $4 each, so this was a 50 percent discount. These were easily slices that would have been sold to the public had someone walked in expecting to pay full price, and they heated them up for me just the same. I’d definitely go back!
Location: Siam Market
Bag Contents: Two bags of fish chips, a 12-pack of vanilla wafers, two packets of curry and a bag of dried pumpkin
How It Went Down: Yep, I went for groceries again. This time, I tried a Thai market located in a warehouse. I really had no idea what to expect, but thought it would be fun to give it a go. Like the Gorillas purchase, I didn’t exactly get anything worthy of a full meal. I could maybe mix the curry with that cabbage, among other things, and get something edible. But I loved the wafers and the pumpkin. The fish chips were interesting, but I think I’ll be donating that second bag.
Location: Le Pain Quotidien
Bag Contents: One pre-packaged salad
Given the two grocery days and the abundance of carbs, I was hoping for a proper meal from the Soho location of Le Pain Quotidien. I wouldn’t have been opposed to more carbs, either, though. Fortunately, they gave me what my body probably needed — a salad. A black lentil salad, to be exact. I like lentils and vegetables, and frankly, I was just glad to get something not made of bread (or fish chips) in my body. Per their website, this salad ordinarily costs around $15, so I feel perfectly okay with that being the only thing in the bag, even if I do still wish a muffin had found its way in there, too.
So, do I think you should switch all your meals and grocery purchases to TooGoodToGo? Maybe if you’re really, really not picky. All things considered, I probably could have just got those bagels on the first day and called it a week. But I will absolutely continue to use the app, because in addition to being cheap and helping prevent good food from ending up as garbage, I also just find it fun and exciting. It’s kind of thrilling to see what ends up in those surprise bags. Sure, I’m glad to maybe be “helping the planet” or whatever, but I also just love a good mystery purchase. The bagels help too, of course.