MealSharing.com, a new website service, connects travelers with locals who, in their own homes, cook meals for visitors, often for a small fee to cover the cost of the food.
This sounds ideal. In fact, the concept derives from that fantasy travel experience– the one in which you meet a native and over tasty fare in a café, you trade stories, connect across cultures and come away happy and wiser about the part of the world you are visiting.
But how likely is that to happen? Excuse my “bah humbug,” but I have doubts. And yes, I go out of my way to engage people who seem willing to chat when I travel. The difference: our talk lasts a few minutes, maybe even a half-hour or more, and then we go our separate ways. And, all the while our encounter stays public; we converse at the restaurant, museum, concert hall, shop or whatever place we find ourselves.
According to MealSharing.com’s press release, founder Jay Savsani was inspired to create the company “after experiencing an unforgettable, home-cooked meal experience while traveling in Siem Reap, Cambodia.” Called the “Airbnb of Home-Cooked Meals,” MealSharing.com aims to replicate Savsani’s experience. Currently, you can share a dining room or kitchen table in 450 cities worldwide.
From reading the comments, the hosts, who are not professional chefs, seem like gregarious types skilled at putting together a good meal that varies from simple to somewhat complicated. You can opt to share a Spanish omelet with Guillermo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; pork slices with fermented bean sauce with Huan in Chicago; or chicken with Ankit in Berlin.
Hosts post their interests, why they share meals, add a few facts about themselves and also their images and photos of their dishes. Potential eaters get a “taste” of the meal, the setting and the host.
I admire the hosts and the diners, am glad for their positive experiences yet I remain skeptical. Maybe it’s because I travel for a living and I have too often found myself seated next to someone on a plane, train or bus, who, while perfectly nice, is not someone I want to talk with for hours. And a meal takes hours.
After exchanging pleasantries, my seatmate or I can continue to talk or cut the conversation short to work or to sleep. You can’t do that to your host while sharing a meal in his or her home. And yes, I have met interesting people on planes and trains, but these memorable experiences number fewer than the neutral or negative ones.
I wonder about politics and values. A few weeks ago while waiting to be seated in a restaurant near my home, I mused aloud about why there was a long wait when the restaurant had so many empty tables. The man next to me responded with a harangue about how nobody wants to work in this welfare state because why would they when they get so much money from the government. I politely excused myself and took a seat at the bar. The man I met is as entitled to his opinion as I am to mine. But I don’t want to be lectured, especially if I disagree with the speaker.
I also think about the safety of walking into a stranger’s home. Undoubtedly, the overwhelming majority of hosts are what they seem—nice people who want to share some food and some talk. Still, it seems odd. Dating sites advise people to meet in public, your friends tell you to meet prospective dates in public, and your mother, well, she probably tells you not to talk to strangers and never, ever go to a strange person’s home.
So what do you think? Would you sign-up for MealSharing.com?
Photos from stock