A little while ago, my ladyfriend and I drove up to Marin County to shuck some oysters. What we didn't realize until we got up there, though, is that large sections of Marin tend to work Small Town America hours, rolling up their carpets and turning off their neon "Open" signs in the early afternoon. Our freelancing, city-folk idea of when the proper time to wake up is didn't mesh well. The disconnect left us with two options: (1) Go home without oysters; (2) Head to the only shop still open for another few minutes, grab some unshucked oysters to go, and do the dirty deed back at home.
Stupidly, we chose the second.
See, oyster-shucking isn't hard once you have the proper instruction and correct tools. But when you have neither, well, that's when you end up hunched over the kitchen sink at 1 a.m. pounding on a piece of rock with a screwdriver for a very small chunk of grossness inside. Suffice it to say, after a few botched attempts at opening them, we weren't really in the mood for them. But my ladyfriend, always conscious of the environment, didn't want to see them to go to waste. So instead of just throwing them out, she put up a post on Craigslist, offering "free oysters" to anyone willing to pick them up.
And amazingly, a ton of people replied.
Her post generated quite a few responses, and shockingly none of them included questions about the quality, reasons why we were getting rid of them, or some kind of proof we weren't anarchists and the oysters were full of poison. It was always, "We'll take 'em," no questions asked.
With the current state of food waste being the terrible problem that it is, the whole experience was one giant eye-opener. Instead of being turned off by the prospect of eating food from an unknown party, people were more than willing to make the trek to eat leftover oysters, the key components being that they were free and would just be getting thrown out if we weren't going to use it. In other words, it was digital dumpster diving.
Right then, I got the idea to create some kind of website or app that allows users to share food with their neighbors. Simply plug in what you have, and people in your neighborhood could drop by for some of your leftovers. All I needed was to find a programmer willing to work on commission, throw together a few copyrights, release the app, make my millions, and coast on through life from here on out. Oh, and one quick cursory Google search was in order to make sure no one was already doing this, but an idea this genius surely was still up for grabs...
Cookisto allows users to upload details of the dish they're making that night. Other users in the area then can claim portions of that meal, pay a modest amount of money for the meal -- much less than would be spent at a restaurant -- and get a home-cooked meal once it's ready. Seeing as it's a social networking site, the meals and cooks can be rated so that the best ones rise to the top. The reviews also serve as a way to get rid of some of the "ick" factor that comes with eating food prepared by an unlicensed stranger:
Cookisto has no way of monitoring the hygiene of the cooks' kitchens or checking the freshness of ingredients, but it urges users to post truthful reviews.
"At first it felt a little dodgy, ordering food from someone you don't know," says Coustas. "You think, 'Who are they? Who is this? What will it taste like? What if it makes me ill?' There is huge trust involved."
But on a logistical level, there's really no more trust involved than eating out at a restaurant. It's essentially the same concept -- you're eating food prepared by a stranger -- but the fact that you're paying more for it in a restaurant lends that process a little more legitimacy. Eating food prepped by your neighbor, then, shouldn't be that big of a step. And as the website's success is proving, it isn't:
The site has attracted 12,000 cooks in Athens in the last few months. What began as a master's degree thesis (in the form of a business plan) for entrepreneurship student Michalis Gkontas has now become a reality in crisis-stricken Greece, and is due to launch in London next month.
That's right, there's the catch: Cookisto is only currently active in Greece, with plans to start up in London shortly. But America is still without a version in the works. So, there you go U.S.-based programmers: A big money idea couched in a seemingly altruistic endeavor is waiting for you to get your best coders on. Bring this idea to the States, already!
Want recipes and food news emailed directly to you? Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!