Food Swaps are seeing a huge surge in popularity. Learn why this traditional and healthy practice helps save time, build communities, and expand taste buds.
As traditional domestic arts such as canning and pickling come back into vogue, food swaps are seeing a surge in interest across North America. “It’s the down-home approach to sharing food and expanding your own handmade and artisan food craft,” explains Kate Payne, co-founder of the Food Swap Network, an online directory of food swaps around the world.
Meet fellow food lovers
When Angela Hersey, of Halifax, attended her first food swap last fall, she wasn’t sure what to expect or if other swappers would take an interest in her homemade yogurt. Much to her surprise and delight, though, “people wanted to try it and were asking me about the process,” she says. “It’s very validating to go to these food swaps and have people love your food. I think people really appreciate the work that goes into homemade food.”
Hersey enjoyed the swap so much that she teamed up with a friend, Aimee Carson, to host a swap of their own. “You leave the house and you have a few loaves of bread, some muffins, some preserves, and these are all your leftovers that you’re not going to eat,” Carson says. “You come back with all of this really amazing loot that you’ve gathered and it’s really exciting to make those trades and not have to pay for it.” She’s seen people swap honey from their backyard bees, produce from their gardens, and a host of homemade soups, breads, and baked goods.
Forging community is a major part of food swapping’s appeal. “We brought those people together that we knew were already interested in food,” Carson says. “It’s a way to meet friends and neighbours and build community.” At food swaps, home chefs get the chance to share recipes and bond over their culinary interests.
Efficiency is another factor. “People are so busy and feeling like perhaps food preparation takes a long time,” Carson adds. “Food swaps allow you to make a big
batch of food, trade it, and get all this other food you haven’t made.”
Dayna Boyer, who’s hosted food swaps in Toronto, agrees. “I made 10 to 15 servings of apple butter and from that I got enough food to last me the week for lunches,” she says. “You can have a lot of different food in your fridge without having to put in the effort to make all of those different dishes.”
Expand your taste buds
Boyer also loves trying new foods. “It’s an opportunity to expand your taste buds,” she says. Among her favourite swap items? Maple almond butter made by a fellow swapper. “The first time she brought it,” Boyer says, “I took it home and ate it with a spoon the moment I got home.”
Another delicious discovery was at a vegan food swap Boyer hosted in a local park, where a swapper traded wraps with marinated tofu, mint leaves, and vegetables. “I’d never thought of putting mint leaves into a sandwich wrap, and it was really good,” she adds.
What to expect at a swap
First-time swappers needn’t be intimidated, as food swaps tend to be in a friendly, supportive setting. Hersey suggests packaging your food individually in containers you don’t expect to get back (Mason jars work well for this and can be washed and reused for future swaps).
“Clear labels are really helpful for people [so],” she adds. “It doesn’t have to be super fancy.” Some swaps ask participants to list the ingredients of their items so that people with allergies
or dietary concerns can make informed choices.
Often, in the early part of a swap, swappers set up their wares and sample each other’s foods before committing to trades. Some swaps, like Boyer’s, use a ticket system where you get a ticket for every item you bring and later exchange the ticket for the same number of items you want to bring home.
Hersey and Carson have used a barter system where swappers approach each other and decide on the approximate value of what they’ll swap. For instance, one swapper might offer half a dozen homemade cookies for a jar of organic salsa, while another offers a container of marmalade in exchange for a bottle of herb-infused
Boyer encourages swappers to be open-minded about trying others’ goods and swapping for unusual items. “Don’t play it safe with your swaps,” she says. “If you know you really love almond butter, try a squash curry soup that you might not have gone for.” After all, there’s no actual money at stake.
6 steps to host a swap of your own
Hosting a food swap is similar to hosting a potluck dinner, because guests all bring contributions so the host doesn’t have to prepare everything. Carson says her main reason for hosting swaps is “creating a positive food culture among our families, neighbours, and communities. These kinds of events are a way to do that.”
Find a location
First, you’ll need a location (see below for ideas) to invite like-minded foodies to.
Invite your guests
Hersey and Carson invited friends via Facebook, while Boyer opened hers to the public and had guests RSVP through Eventbrite, a software platform that allows organizers to set up registration and/or ticketing for events. (Her second swap was vegan-themed, and she teamed up with a vegan meetup group to host.) Hersey suggests having guests RSVP so you’ll know how many to expect to prepare enough tables.
Don’t stress about numbers
“Each swap should be catered toward the community that they’re in,” Payne says. “I’ve participated in a bunch of food swaps, and I was pleased that whether it was really small or a 40-person swap, the principles still worked.”
Specify that swap items must be homemade, homegrown, or foraged. A platform like Facebook allows guests to compare notes on what they’re bringing to avoid duplication.
Use swap sheets
Create swap sheets for swappers to write down their item, its ingredients, their name, and a section for swap offers.
Let the swap begin
Food swaps usually last around two hours. Allow guests time to check out the offerings and fill out swap sheets before the swap begins. a
Want to host a swap? Here are some ideas for potential venues:
- outdoor parks
- community centres
- community gardens
- community kitchens
- farmers’ markets
- local businesses
- local schools
- event spaces