Meal Sharing is the Newest Player in the Sharing Economy

By Shaina Kandel

Shaina Kandel is pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. She has a background in Organizational Development and Healthcare Consulting. She is passionate about creating sustainable food systems and improving the health and wellbeing of our communities.

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The sharing economy is gaining momentum on the back of social and economic trends: the recession incentivizing sharing resources instead of owning goods, technology enabling transparency and social connection, and climate change increasing awareness about resource consumption.  More and more organizations are popping up focused on collaborate consumption. Fast Company estimates the sharing economy as a $2 billion industry. In urban environments, the sharing economy is dissolving the line between private and public spaces. Bedrooms are becoming distributed hotels via Airbnb and personal cars are becoming taxis via Lyft, Sidecar, and UberX. Looking ahead, the next private space that will transform is the kitchen.

Photo Credit: Suppershare.com

Photo Credit: Suppershare.com

Around the globe, innovative online platforms are connecting ordinary people who enjoy cooking to guests who want to eat home cooked meals. Kuala Lampur based PlateCulture enables cooks around Southeast Asia to open up their kitchens to guests. Platforms such as Paris based Cookening and Tel Aviv based EatWith focus on connecting travelers to home cooked meals while on the road, sharing culture through food. And in San Francisco, SupperShare is building community through shared meals, donating a percent of earnings to local charities.

Looking at the impact of shared economy organizations in parallel industries, the San Francisco Business Times shows that Airbnb “exceeds 10 million bookings and is used by over 50,000 renters per night.” As Airbnb’s market share increases, hotel revenues in the same markets are decreasing. Similarly, the taxi industry is locked in a battle to regulate ride-sharing companies such as Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber as they disrupt the industry. Thinking about the potential volume of meal sharing, the question is how it will impact urban food systems and the restaurant industry.

Photo Credit: Feastly

Photo Credit: Feastly

Meal sharing introduces a completely new component to the dining experience: socializing with strangers. To attend a shared meal, the guest must be interested in engaging in conversation with new people, which is actually one of the barriers for meal sharing sites to gain users. Since this is not a consideration when deciding to dine out, meal sharing might nicely compliment the restaurant industry. Meal sharing may also incentivize people who cook at home to do so more frequently, as they are able make a profit.

More interesting than the economic impacts of meal sharing is the potential it carries for urban food systems and communities. First of all, meal sharing creates time and space for people to connect offline in the most traditional way possible, over food.  For guests who would otherwise be consistently eating out, eating home cooked food on a regular basis usually means a lower intake of salt and fat, improving health.  There are also implications for food waste and the ability to build more resilient communities through increased social connections.

When thinking about the potential of meal sharing, SupperShare cofounder Kim Hunter says, “It can reduce food waste and leverage buying power as we’re looking to explore with SupperShare. Meal sharing in support of a shared purpose can raise financial support and community awareness. Community dinners like our Harvest Dinner at New Liberation Community Garden raised money to help the garden, which distributes fresh produce to the community and brought together a cross section of people across racial and economic lines. Food is a common denominator and an incredible tool to bring people together, which I’d say is a huge first step to addressing the multitude of challenges we face in urban environments. It’s really not about limiting ourselves to just high tech solutions but about community engagement and how food is a common denominator.

Where meal sharing differs from other shared economy services is that it acts as a catalyst for community building, supporting common causes, and intimately sharing cultures. The potential for these platforms is only limited by the creativity of the meal sharing community.

Top Photo Credit: Eilon Paz

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