Cooking in a crisis

By Efrosini Costa

Cooking in a crisis
Sharing instead of buying meals is a win-win for local communities, especially in Europe's crisis-hit cities.

The advent of economic crises in countries like Greece has seen a return to a system of ‘collaborative consumption’ – the collective sharing of goods and services.

Think about your local community: how many services have popped up to share a car, parking space and on a global scale many of us now share ideas, films and even music.

A rise in swapping, sharing, renting and bartering are all indications that we are returning to an old-market system of interaction.

But nowhere is this social phenomenon gaining more momentum than in the crisis-hit capital cities of Europe. Now, even cooking is becoming an established part of this collaborative economy.

Cookisto is an online community developed by Athens-based student Michalis Gkontas. Originally conceived as part of a business plan for his Master’s thesis, the site now boasts close to 12,000 amateur home cooks and hungry city residents.

Parents, office-workers and students are all connecting online to create or find a home cooked meal for less than they would normally pay at one of the city’s food establishments.

“It is a win-win situation,” 26-year-old Gkontas told reporters. “The cooks get to earn a little extra, while foodies get nutritious home-cooked dishes for cheaper than if they were to get a takeaway.”

The start-up initiative, which relies heavily on renewed trust between Athens residents and a nifty rating system where the site’s cooks are rated on their food, is due to hit London next month.

With Greece’s unemployment reaching a staggering 27.9 per cent and a never-ending period of austerity, the ability to earn some extra euros by whipping up a moussaka or two is more than an enticing hobby for cooks.

One Cookista, Marilena Zachou from the Athens district of Marousi, has found the site curbs her family’s food waste and helps her earn roughly 200 euros a month – which subsequently gets used to pay for household groceries.

But the Greek housewife insists the program is providing people with more than just money: “I feel we are pulling together in the crisis. Many students are struggling to make ends meet. I’ve been there… fed up of eating bread and takeaways. It’s nice I can provide them with food their mothers would cook and for very little,” Zachou told reporters.

Dimitirs Coustas, an Athenian office worker, says he buys his lunch from Cookisto at least once a week: “The cooks deliver the dishes to you themselves, sometimes they add a free dessert to encourage you to choose them again next time. It’s funny, sometimes the housewives will ask if you have ordered from anyone else on the site and enquire how their food rates compared to others’. I think there is quite a bit of competition!”

Cookisto’s Greek community has also moved beyond the Internet realm. A restored faith in community, coupled with the kindness of strangers, in the unemployment and poverty stricken society has seen organisers get together and spark conversation in feedback sessions.

This peer-to-peer marketplace turns out to be the real benefit of a collaborative economy says a recent article in Time magazine. “In an era when families are scattered and we may not know the people down the street, sharing things — even with strangers we’ve just met online — allows us to make meaningful connections. Peer-to-peer sharing “involves the re-emergence of community,” Sydney-based Rachel Botsman, co-author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption says in the article.

“This works because people can trust each other.”


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