Monday, May 9, 2011

I Heart Food Swaps!

I heart food swaps because a good food swap encompasses three of my favorite passions: food, health and community.

Clearly food is the biggest part of the aptly named food swap. Anyone who pickles, ferments, bakes, cooks, grows, forages, brews, distills or cans is welcome to come trade their wares. You always know exactly where the food came from. If there's a question about preparation methods or ingredients, 800 numbers need not be dialed. Finicky online customer service forms need not be submitted. All one has to do is simply ask their fellow swapper: "So what exactly do you feed Laverne and Shirley to make these yolks so spectacularly yellow?". Super cool and super easy.

You're also bound to find inspiration for your next kitchen experiment. Other people may have tried things you hand't thought of doing yet. Or done it slightly different, with better results. And if you thought the sampling at Whole Foods on a Sunday was reason enough to justify an outing, just try coming to the next food swap. Your palate will get such a delicious workout, it'll feel like it went to boot camp.

You know you're getting real food every time, too. You're not going to be bombarded by highly processed foods and artificial flavorings. Lots of folks prepare their items using local ingredients that were either grown in their own garden or procured from a regional CSA or food co-op. So what you're getting is usually pretty local fare, which means it's better for the environment and more nutritious to boot since it hasn't been riding on a truck or sitting on a dusty store shelf for weeks on end. This all equates to being better for your health!

Food swaps are as much about the community as they are about the goods. Strangers collect around a common interest to share their love of food. But so much more than food gets exchanged. Stories. Phone numbers. Ideas. Connection. It's all about bringing back the village vibe. Food swapping is one more way to lessen the individual load a little. Make a huge batch of one item, come home with a bountiful variety of food to feed your family for days, if not longer.

Independence is over-rated. It's time to start re-building our community together. That's why I decided to create Seattle Swappers. Inspired by the food swap groups popping up throughout the country, its an organization where Seattle-area food lovers can gather to trade, celebrate and share their unique edible creations. We host seasonal food swaps for homemade, homegrown and foraged delights.

If you want to get your food swap on with Seattle Swappers, stay connected! Our next swap will be sometime this July. We'll be announcing the date soon.

Stay connected online: 
Facebook: Click here
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Email: Click here

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Get Your Food Swap On!

Last Saturday, April 16, 2011, I attended my first-ever Food Swap in Wallingford, a north-central Seattle neighborhood, put on by the founders of Wallyhood, Wallingford’s local neighborhood blog.
Food has forever been an obsession of mine. In recent years, I’ve also found myself day-dreaming, with growing frequency, as to how to create a more barter-centric economy. From co-housing facilities, to home-swaps, to the resurgence of swapping services of all kinds, when a conversation emerges having to do with bartering, I am like butter in a warm palm. I drip with intrigue.
So when I found out about the Wallyhood Food Swap, through a local neighborhood email list, I just about fell off of my barstool. Partly because I’d already had a couple of glasses of wine and I was sitting on of those twisty-turny stools. But mainly because, here it was, my dream scenario finally coming to light. It was like someone, somewhere (somewhere not all that far in fact) had read my quirky little mind.
“Do you cook, bake, can, jar, grow, distill, brew, shepherd or summon?” the original email inquired?
“Yes, yes”, my inner voice squeaked. “I do some of those things quite well.” And it just so happens that I really like being around people who do all of those things.
There were only 20 spots available. Sure enough, the notion of scarcity made me react as if I was an engaged woman at David’s Bridal on discount day. With frightening speed and determination, logistics be damned, I logged onto the website and signed up not even knowing if I already had a prior commitment. In the spot requesting information on the items being brought, I simply stated “something darn tasty”. I had no clue what I intended to bring, but I knew one thing for sure: I was going to get my swap on.
Leading up to the swap, I was actually giddy. I couldn’t wait to taste my fellow swappers’ wares, discover what they thought of my offerings, and meet other bartering-minded foodies. 
As long as the food was homemade or homegrown, consumable, and wrapped or packaged for swapping, it was fair game. It meant the possibilities were almost endless.
I’m fairly certain my enthusiasm quickly went from “oh, isn’t that neat” to “wow, when did she become so annoying?” as I bounced endless idea after endless idea off of those nearest and dearest to me.
“Should I bring meyer lemon sorbet? Oh, but how will I keep it frozen? “
“How about herbed ciabatta bread? Hmm, I’m not eating wheat, Shoot, I can’t swap it if I can’t taste it, right?”
“What about fresh-bottled beet, apple, ginger and cucumber juice? Darn, that would require a ton of expensive beets.”
The rules stated that you could bring a lot of one thing or a few of several things, either way was fine. The marketer in me settled on bringing several items so I could perform a mini “market-test”. I wanted to scope-out market demand, this first time around, to gauge what to bring for future swaps. As a final measure of precaution, I figured I would make things that, if I got stuck with all of them, I wouldn’t mind having on hand. Seriously, were my fellow swappers applying this much intellectual rigor to the process? Isn’t there a vitamin or supplement to help Type-A’s to become less A? And what does the A stand for anyhow?
Wait. Don’t answer that.
Eventually I settled on making four items: Beet-Shallot Vinaigrette, Dark Chocolate Garbanzo Bean Brownies with Avocado Icing (way better then they sound, I promise), Roasted Spring Vegetable Bisque, and Kale Pesto. Figuring out how to package everything was another interesting dilemma.  But thanks to the magic of I had no trouble sorting that issue out.
The rules of a typical swap are simple:
  • Bring something(s) homemade, homegrown or foraged. Package it for trade, and provide some tasting samples
  • Place your items on a table, in a space approximately 1.5’ wide, where they can be viewed, alongside a blank 3x5 card
  • Review the items for trade, and write your name on the card next to the things you want, along with what you’re offering to swap in exchange (silent-auction style)
  • After an hour, find the people who offered up a trade on your cards, who you also want to swap with, and let the magic of barter commerce unfold
At a food swap, there are no set guidelines to determine what a fair swap is. It’s up to you and the person you’re swapping with. Everything I wanted, I got. While I’d like to think this is a testimony to the demand for my products, I can’t say with any kind of certainty that this was indeed the case.
You see, the thing is, everybody at the swap was super-friendly and super-likeable. That can make saying “No” to someone super darn-difficult.  And in this case, since we were in someone’s home, rather closely packed together, we decided to do away with the formality of writing trades on the 3x5 cards. It just seemed silly when we were practically standing on each-others toes to begin with.
Having to solicit offers face-to-face, instead of by way of a 3x5 card, made it even more difficult to reject someone’s offer. To be perfectly honest, there were one or two swappers I wasn’t interested in trading with. But I couldn’t muster the courage to tell them to kiss-off.
Being able to adeptly say “no takers here, now move on sucker” is a skill I don’t think I’ll ever perfect, even with more food-swapping experience. And that’s coming from a born and bred East coast Jew. That’s why I vote to uphold the silent-auction format for our next food swap. Throw in some name tags, require ingredient lists, find a slightly larger venue, and I think we will be on our way to perfecting the Seattle Swappers experience.
Bottom line? I think the first Seattle Swap was an outrageous success, and hopefully my fellow swappers agree. On a Spring afternoon in Seattle, a bunch of people with a love of homemade creations gathered to swap food, trade stories and form new friendships. Phone numbers and emails and recipes were exchanged. The only thing not exchanged? Money.
It’s great to see local food swaps happening on a larger scale basis. As more of us decide to redefine what it means to be a consumer, and a supporter of local foods, I predict we will see much more food swapping activity. A little food sovereignty, my friends, can go a very long way!
  • 3 tins of brownies
  • 4 pints of soup
  • 5 jars of kale pesto
  • 5 jars of vinaigrette
My bounty:
  • 4 varieties of infused butters, including garlic, rosemary, lemon and sun-dried tomato
  • A massive jar of Philthy Sanchez hot sauce
  • 6 eggs and some herb mayonnaise
  • A jar of peach-nectarine preserves
  • 2 jars of homemade honey from Hive-Mind
  • 2 boxes of Handmade dark chocolate truffles
  • 1 bag of granola
  • A jar of classic pesto
  • A small jar of pickled relish
  • 6 bottles of home-brewed beer
Other items available for swapping included stevia powder, carrot onion slaw, chili tequila, hummus, cheese cake, peppercorn shortbread, and more.