Do you like food and new friends? Then you’ll love this. Image courtesy of Beth Santos.
If you haven’t heard about Meal Sharing, get ready to meet your new favorite activity for pretty much the rest of your traveling career.
The “Airbnb for dinner” startup is a traveler’s best friend, and after being invited to my first “girls only” meal share with community manager (and enthusiastic Go Girl) Jessica Smith Soto to benefit one of my favorite non-profit organizations in Chicago, Girl Forward, I knew it was time to really give it a shot.
As you would guess, I’m a convert. This newest addition to the sharing economy has me hooked. Here are five reasons why you haven’t lived until you’ve shared a meal with a bunch of strangers.
1. The grub.
Pumpkin flan. After we had it, our lives changed. Image by Beth Santos.
Anyone can host a meal share. Your host could be a chef-in-training with a test kitchen and fancy one-bite tasting spoons. Or she could be a college student in a studio apartment with a great home recipe for mac ‘n cheese. The meals are both extravagant and humble, and because of their variety, each one is special.
But that’s the beauty. Even though everyone is sitting down for a meal that they hope will be delicious, there’s no judgment. Your hosting skills are more important than your ability to torch a crème brulée. This is, of course, not to say that Jessica’s family enchilada recipe wasn’t da bomb. Because it was.
Plus, when you sign up for a meal, you know more or less what you’re getting, thanks to a short description and images. You can also filter by food preferences and dietary restrictions.
2. It’s affordable.
When Meal Sharing first graced the Internet world, it was free. Now, it’s added in a “chip in” feature where hosts can get reimbursed for the cost of their meals, but that means they’re still dirt-cheap (if not free entirely). Who said that you need to go hungry when you travel the world?
At our dinner, Jessica used the “chip in” feature as a fundraising platform. Every dollar raised from our dinner went directly to Girl Forward to help them with their mission of supporting and empowering immigrant and refugee girls in Chicago.
3. You can meal share anywhere.
Image courtesy of Girl Forward.
Maybe you host people in your house. Maybe you have a meal share in an apple orchard, under the shade of a small tree. Maybe it’s in Central Park, on someone’s roof, or in an office conference room. Wherever you go, meal shares can happen there, and you’re encouraged to be creative when space is an issue. The cute picture above is Girl Forward’s headquarters on Devon Ave. in Chicago.
4. The friendships.
Our dinner crowd. Image courtesy of Beth Santos.
Probably the fastest way to make a new friend is by eating with someone. It’s one of my favorite parts of the meal sharing movement.
There’s nothing like sitting next to a person for an hour and being drawn into conversation with them about their life, their family, their home – all the things you talk about over a satisfying bite. What starts as a pure need to fill your stomach ends as good conversation and connectedness.
Attending a meal share is no different. A group of strangers unite over someone’s home cooking, and, suddenly, everyone is a friend. What a great way to meet travel buddies, global connections or even our next pen pal (Do they still do those?).
5. Its global impact.
You just need one person to host a meal share – and a hungry dinner guest to share it with. That’s why companies like Meal Sharing are able to take over the world, one delicious dish at a time. Imagine a day when we can go on a trip where we stay only at locals’ homes and eat their cooking. It’s not far from now.
Yet sharing a meal is more than just food – and even more than just friendships. Its participation in the sharing economy makes it a movement. For the first time, we’re not using the Internet as a substitute for social interactions, but as a catalyst for them. Organizations like Airbnb and Lyft are re-engineering the way that relationships can be formed. Making new experiences and lasting relationships and connecting to our world via the Internet has never been easier or more fun.