Food swap: An interview with Kate Payne 

click to enlarge Kate Payne, the accidental founder of organized food-swapping. - JO ANN SANTANGELO
  • Kate Payne, the accidental founder of organized food-swapping.
  • Jo Ann Santangelo

Food swapping. Sounds a bit risqué, doesn't it? My husband and I do it at restaurants - we each order an entree, eat half of it, switch plates and finish the other, debating who made the better choice. My son does it at school, against rules set by both mother and teacher, because what 5-year old wants to eat carrot sticks when a buddy's extra potato chips are to be had?

But neither of these table-manner-snafus are at the heart of the group, Indy Food Swappers. Inspired by similar groups in Brooklyn, Austin and Portland, the local chapter was started last year by Suzanne Krowiak with the intention of "striving to inspire creativity, build community, and spread good cheer."

To state the obvious: food swappers swap food. While the rule says it must be homemade, you can bring anything from homemade jam to pickles to homebrew, with candies and cookies in-between. At my first swap, I walked in with a half-dozen mini-loaves of pumpkin bread and a handful of random home-canned goods from the basement. I came home with tomato-corn salsa, maple butter, homemade pasta, buckeye candies and more.

While some form of organized swapping has likely gone on since the days of hunt and gather, this modern incarnation was the accidental brainchild of Kate Payne, author of the book The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking. Kate, a self-taught guru of all things frugal, eco-friendly and edible in the home, had made orange marmalade for the first time in her Austin kitchen, and realized she would never make it through nine jars. So she put a call on Twitter, offered up her bounty and the swap seed was planted.

Kate and a few well-placed friends across the country started the website Food Swap Network, where users can find local chapters, as well as share information and resources. All of this happened simultaneously with the publishing of her first book, which Kate will be signing when she visits Indianapolis next week (see infobox).

I chatted with Kate recently, picking her brain about everything from backyard chickens (she's not ready, they're still in a rental) to her favorite pressure canner (a low-end Presto).

NUVO: How did you decide to share your idea and start the Food Swap Network?

Kate Payne: My first swap happened when I was living in Brooklyn. We ended up getting some local press, and then folks in Portland started one. A video was made about Portland - then people started forming them around the country. A friend in LA is web designer, and had the idea to start the website.

NUVO: What prompted you to write your book?

Payne: I felt like there weren't a lot of resources for people who didn't have time, money, or the desire to improve their home. I wanted to show people that what they were resisting was not what they thought it was. You don't have to want a Martha Stewart house - there are other incarnations of that.

NUVO: Why is your book a guide for "hip girls?"

Payne: It just came to me, and seemed a good name for what it was trying to get at. I wanted to take back homemaking a little bit. Maybe for the woman that already has a career or is trying to figure it all out - she might plan to stay home with future kids, but doesn't feel like she fits into a category.

NUVO: Top three tips for a friend who's moving into their own place for the first time?


1) Pick 2-3 areas to focus on first - don't look at it like a whole place that you must tackle.

2) Utilize thrift and estate sales for furniture purchases.

3) Relax. Your place is your place. You don't have to do anything a certain way. Just enjoy living on your own - figuring it out as you go is okay.

NUVO: Favorite thing to cook?

Payne: Bread [her daily loaf is a gluten-free oatmeal millet]

Katy Carter blogs about food at


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