My Food Swap Experience
Inside & Out of Attending, Organizing, and Enjoying
By Marie Rogers, STL Food Swap
Let me start off by saying that food swaps are fun, exciting and don’t require a lot of dedication, unlike say, scrapbooking. Food swaps require very little money. They can be more exclusive in the foodie variety in posh neighborhoods, and comfortingly charming in less affluent communities. Fancy preparations and cute packaging are fun, but unnecessary.
Reclaimed jelly jars and plastic wrap are as ornate as one need be.
Also, swaps are often like potlucks where like-minded people gather in welcoming locations like farms, churches, and coffee shops. What one does need is open minded people willing to gather and share new things; people who cook, grow, or otherwise create from the heart. These are the people that help make swaps exciting because one can taste it in their food. You get to learn why this food is healing, or the history behind it, or how their grandmother would make such and such for Easter dinner. It’s a wonderful opportunity to try foods you may never otherwise be able to try.
How often would you try Kombucha? If you never have, you probably aren’t willing to spend the $4 per bottle in the store, either. And if you do, get ready for the pucker because that stuff is tart city, like ole Aunt Sally. Homemade kombucha on the other hand is typically milder, unless you prefer to leave it until all the sugar is gone, making it tart. Food swaps allow people to expand their pantries without spending extra money. Let’s say your tart Aunt Sally has an apple tree and she gives you 20 pounds of them. In a fit of inspiration, you decide to make applesauce. Three days later, with every dish in your kitchen piled high in the sink, you have successfully canned 20 pounds of applesauce. You have three choices ahead of you now: eat applesauce ad infinitum, give them away for the next two Christmases or attend a food swap and bring home a few jars of cherry jelly, some pickles, strawberry syrup, kefir grains, and a brioche. That, my friends, is a fun time!
I admit that gathering large groups of people in my area has proved a challenge. But other swaps across the nation tend to have very large swaps with upwards of 50 people, plus a waiting list. Our swaps have been much more intimate in number. We typically have 6-12 participants. The best way to start is to have a like-minded partner, a free open space to host, and a large group of foodie friends. The second best way is to tenaciously ask every single person you have ever known to come to a swap in Aunt Sally’s garage. It’s pretty easy as long as you are good at begging. I kid. Sort of. There is a network of food swaps across the country and even in places like the UK and Europe and one or two in Australia. The Food Swap Network was started by Kate Payne of The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. Her site has some very good information about swaps and how to host. The network lists all of the known swaps going on. Some have been unfortunate to meet with political resistance due to the disagreement of the interpretation of the laws governing the public sharing of food from unapproved kitchens. Minneapolis, for example is no longer actively swapping. In St. Louis we have not had that struggle, but it has been difficult to get open doors to some venues that require us to have certification. Our local cottage food laws do not require those certifications, since no money is involved. Some locations just haven’t been open to the idea. Other places thought the idea sounded interesting, but these same food focused organizations did not think a swap would be a good fit for them. I find that quite perplexing. I persist however and more and more doors are beginning to open. I have recently been introduced to a local economic solidarity group and am encouraged, with their help, we will continue to expand as well as bring alternative commerce to a growing number of people, especially to those who need it most.
Some important things to remember when you attend are that everyone is expected to use the highest cleanliness standards, you may bring as much or as little as you like and no one should feel obligated to exchange for something they do not want. Although, at our swaps, many people do make pity trades and typically, by the end many people are just giving stuff away they don’t want to take it home. This is a bartering event so you will negotiate what you want from each other during a swap; most swaps are item for item. It’s all a pretty simple process. Arrival. Set up. Mingle and sample. Chaotic swapping madness. Go home happy.
Marie Rogers is a housewife who, since overcoming 2 types of cancer, now spends her time learning about and making nutritious real food, healing through food and exercise, reading, writing, lots of small creative projects, gardening, taking care of pets, and washing lots of dishes.