One of the benefits of living in a large city like New York is the power of choice – especially when it comes to cuisine. Just about every type of ethnic food can be found here, from Ethiopian to El Salvadorian, from gluten-free to nut free, from halal to kosher.
But sometimes there’s nothing better than enjoying a home-cooked meal in your own dining room, especially if you get to pick the menu for the night (and the cook), and don’t have to prepare it, schlep it, or clean up your kitchen.
That’s the idea behind Mealku.com, an unusual food-sharing cooperative started by Ted D’Cruz-Young. Innovation and simplicity were the trademarks with which he launched his New York-based marketing enterprise Ideocracy, and they are evident in his newest creation as well.
“Really simply," says D’Cruz-Young, it’s “for people to share more, waste less (and) eat better.
“Meal sharing… has existed since the beginning of time. All we are doing is making it easier.”
According to its website, Mealku bills itself as “the first and only Real Food Network: The Best Way to Eat.” It caters to those who can appreciate the art that goes into a thoughtfully-prepared meal without the fuss, the bother and the exorbitant price tag of sitting in someone else’s four-star dining room. It simplifies the process of meal sharing. It also provides a venue for cooks to share their best creations with individuals who appreciate good food.
And simplicity is also at the heart of Mealku’s operation. Meals are posted on the site by approved homecooks according to the day and time that they will be ready. Other members within their city or regional area can then visit the site and “claim” the dishes for that day. Once claimed, a delivery person acts as the liaison by picking up and delivering the dish to the recipient (transport dishes and carriers are provided by the cooperative). The dish can either be delivered to a specified destination (your house or office for example), or picked up at a prearranged Mealku hub location.
Mealku’s premise works on the concept of community sharing, not only in the active exchange of meals, but in how it regards member participation. While it does conduct pre-screens of its homecooks and participants do have to register to become members, there is a certain amount of responsibility placed on participants to make thoughtful choices and to live by the cooperative’s maxim of respectful conduct. As Mealku’s FAQ succinctly states, “There is nowhere on Mealku for bad cooks to hide. You’ve checked the cooks' most recent reviews. You’ve FoodPal’d people who have ordered from the cook. You’re ordering because another Mealku member has told you that the food is amazing.” Participants are encouraged to review the meals, and to remember that Mealku is first and foremost a “tight community” of like-minded people.
At the present time, membership costs $10 per month, which provides you with a beginning credit with which to purchase food. Members can earn more credit (calculated as “ku”) by cooking, and reviewing meals online, or through other activities such as hosting welcome visits and introducing new members to the cooperative. The monthly “payment” of ku encourages members to take on participatory functions that feed back into the group’s success and growth.
Ask D’Cruz-Young why he feels that New Yorkers – and other urbanites for that matter - would be interested in the services of an online meal-sharing cooperative, and he’s just as succinct.
“Exhaustion,” he says. “We have created a system where we have ever-increasing quantities of stuff that we don’t need, and … there are ever-decreasing rewards for having that stuff. We have a generational break going on … We have over-saturated the population (and) society with stuff, and therefore we can’t value any of it.”
The end result, he says is a craving for a simpler, more intimate exchange.
“I value something more if I share it,” says D’Cruz-Young. “I value something more that is shared with me, and belongs to someone (else). We are in a fundamental shift.”
Once a local group is established, it is up to the group to decide what kinds of foods it can, and wants to provide. Mealku provides a template of choices such as gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, etc. It’s also up to the community to define the interpretations of those categories. For example, cooks who check off kosher will be able to indicate the extent of stringency of the rating. It’s also up to the person ordering to ask questions, if necessary.
At the present time, Mealku is only in New York City. But there are plans to expand the cooperative to other cities, and D’Cruz-Young feels confident that there will be as enthusiastic a response in other cities as there has been in New York.
“We will be in every major city across the country very fast,” says D’Cruz-Young. He points out that the beauty of Mealku is its adaptability as a sharing economy cooperative. Cuisine isn’t just limited to the dining room or a restaurant; sharing can happen anywhere.
“We’re also in schools, we’re also in apartment buildings …Wherever there are people, and they are eating, we can be there.”
Photo courtesy of KayOne73; Mealku logo courtesy of Mealku.