Arts, Culture & Media

Mealsharing: Finding a Home Cooked Meal Around the World

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Jay Savsani, center, shares a meal in Cambodia arranged through his Mealsharing program. (Photo courtesy of Jay Savsani.)

Jay Savsani admits he's no gourmet cook. He thinks of himself as just a few steps above instant ramen or mac-and-cheese. But that doesn't matter. It's Global Sharing Day, an effort to break the world record for the most meals shared.

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"It's going to be a massive meal and the exciting thing about that is that there are meals going on around the world," Savsani says, in a bustling Chicago kitchen.

He's the founder of Mealsharing, an online network aimed at helping travelers connect with a home cooked meal anywhere in the world, and in their own communities.

Jay's interest in sharing food began as a tourist in Cambodia. He says that eating in restaurants, something was missing.

"We're in this beautiful country, exploring and trying new things, but we weren't able to be in somebody's home or have real food."

So Jay took matters into his own hands. He went to the front desk of his hotel and told the manager he was looking for a home cooked meal.

"When I said that he lit up. He said great, let me find you a home cooked meal. And I was like, the adventure begins now."

The meal was everything Jay had hoped: the food was good, the conversations meandered from Michael Jackson to Obama to Pol Pot. Jay says on the rickshaw ride home, he had an epiphany.

"There needs to be a digital solution to recreate the spontaneity of that evening so you don't have to go to a hotel lobby to have this happen. Let's build a community of people around the world that want to make this happen."

Jay set out to create what he calls 'facilitated serendipity,' an online network to share meals with strangers around the world. He says you can now go to 250 cities worldwide and have a home cooked meal-for free.

Mealsharing users make profiles. Each one lists the kind of meals they like to cook. Jay shows me some of the entries. There's one that says "freshest food with a Spanish twist," another that offers "exotic vegan" fare. Then there's the one that lists "unexperienced but funny cook."

"At Mealsharing, we support that feel," says Jay. "We want to strip pretentiousness out of food so that hosts don't feel like they have to make something that would be on Top Chef."

Jay says he's met a range of people on Mealsharing, from a Palestinian woman in Paris to a Brazilian couple in Berlin, and it allows him to travel locally too. In Chicago, he's eaten with a Mexican family. And Phil from Alabama taught him how to cook proper fried chicken. Phil says he marinates the chicken in buttermilk. "It's a heart attack on a plate, but hey, what a way to go."

Phil is in Chicago for the global meal-sharing event, and he's brought some couch surfers from Colombia and Australia along with him.

Like the online services "couch surfing" or "Air BnB," Mealsharing is part of a trend, what some call 'collaborative consumption.' But it's really an old idea.

"Digital allows us to do what we used to do – meeting up with strangers, hitchhiking and hosting travelers for food or accommodations," Jay says. "But this time around we can use technology to make it even safer."

He says Mealsharing will start verifying users' addresses and phone numbers electronically to help ensure people really are who they say.

Mealsharing has a way to go before it becomes mainstream, but it is gaining attention. Jay spoke to the British Parliament about how sharing meals can build community and promote healthy home cooked food.

And, at least at this Global Sharing Day event, the movement seems to be gaining some well-fed converts.