On my radar: Meals on wheels via social media

2013-05-26 14:00

Last year, a consumer survey conducted by FinMark Trust showed that 26% of South Africans now borrow from credit providers to buy food.

These are mostly low- and ­middle-income households that are now caught in a permanent spiral of debt, attempting (unsuccessfully) to juggle numerous credit accounts, which they rely on but can no longer afford.

Many of these consumers acquired and accumulated debt in the past two years.

They had not factored in the compounded increase in electricity and fuel prices, or the ripple effect these increases would have on the overall cost of living, which in turn has ­accelerated their debt spiral.

But others don’t even have the luxury of buying food on credit.

The African Food Security Unit Network released a five-year study in which they discovered that 12?million South Africans go hungry every day.

To add insult to injury, the 2013 Institution of Mechanical Engineers report, Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not estimates that between 30% and 50% (in other words, between 1.2?billion and 2?billion tons) of food produced globally never reaches human stomachs.

The report blames unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, the Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, poor agricultural practices, and poor infrastructure and storage.

The point that’s brought home is we waste an inordinate amount of food, while others go to bed hungry every day.

But interesting things happen when empathy meets technology.

While the foodies photograph their meals for cyberconsumption on ­Instagram, others have found a ­novel way to use social networks to help feed those less fortunate.

Collaborative consumption is a trend that has been on the rise for some time – from bike- or ­car-sharing schemes, to communal use of home appliances like lawn mowers within a neighbourhood or circle of friends.

The spirit of collaborative consumption has now spread to food and, in particular, the sharing of the ­daily meals we cook.

Most people inevitably cook more than is needed and, in many ­cases, these leftovers are thrown away. “Food cooperatives” are now starting to become a trend around the world.

Mealku is an online cooperative in New York that provides people within a neighbourhood or community a simple system to share extra or leftover meals. All home cooks are prescreened when they register on the online platform.

Once registered, they list available dishes that fellow members within the Mealku community can claim for that day.

Mealku then facilitates the delivery to the recipient’s home or a predetermined collection point.

As the platform’s intent is to build community, no money is ever exchanged. You can, however, earn points within the “Ku system”, for cooking, reviewing meals online, or even introducing new people to the co-op.

Over in Surrey in the UK, a similar food-sharing revolution is taking place.

Casserole is a social media project that works on the same principle as Mealku.

It is a start-up by FutureGov, a social innovation and technology company that works with local government to develop better services for councils and their communities. It connects people who have extra meal portions with hungry neighbours.

Like Mealku, Casserole members post their extra dishes on to the site’s “menu”, detailing what it is, when and where it was cooked, and how many uneaten servings are available.

Food donors can choose to list spare meals as a one-off occasion, or sign up for Casserole’s Pair Up project, where they agree to share meals with another person on a regular basis.

Most importantly, the social platform acts as an intermediary by connecting people who aren’t on the internet through a phone service, as many recipients are diners older than 80.

These food-sharing schemes help the elderly, the sick, those who simply don’t have time to cook and, importantly, families who are battling to make ends meet – and there is a growing number of the latter.

For the naysayers who argue that these kinds of social media platforms are not accessible to the ­communities who need them (diplomaticspeak for “the poor don’t have access to the internet”), my counterargument is that the car guard who patrols my office complex may live in a shack, but he owns a ­smartphone.

It is the paradox of most developing nations.

In reality, most of the recipients of food schemes are the elderly, who are far from tech savvy.

It’s more important for the donors to be connected, and to spread the word and the meals.

In this day and age, for those who are hungry, technology is not really the

obstacle to your next meal – just our willingness to share with those who have less than we do.

»?Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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