Kitchen Surfing: Connecting People through Food

The internet truly is an amazing thing. I love seeing the new innovative ways people use the internet to connect to other people not only online but also in person. Online dating connects people romantically, Craigslist connects people with a similar need (objects, service, job, apartment, etc.), Airbnb and Couchsurfing connect travelers to locals for accommodations, and now there is Kitchensurfing.

I just found out about Kitchensurfing from this New York Times article. Kitchensurfing is this incredible new phenomenon started by an entrepreneur who worked in a restaurant and saw how little chefs are paid. He knew they could make more money cooking privately, but also new that these freelance jobs were hard to find. He created Kitchensurfing to connect people to local, diverse chefs who will buy the groceries, cook, and clean up for a dinner party, special occasion, or just anytime. 

Not all the chefs are professionally trained. Some hail from all over the globe and just love to cook. They are all pre-screened by the kitchensurfing team so they are credible, but not necessarily classically trained. This personalized experience allows people to connect to their food in an even more personal way. This experience allows the chef to tell a story. The chef can share a childhood memory, or explain where or from whom he or she learned to cook that dish, or where the freshest ingredients can be found. 

This is redefining the restaurant experience. Kitchensurfing has made it possible for amateur chefs to be paid and treated like professionals. It has also allowed for a restaurant-quality meal to be personalized and made more intimate by taking place in your own home.

I would absolutely love to try this. I imagine it is rather expensive though. The luxury of a personal chef is not one that many can afford. I would love to see a less yuppie version of this where people could cook for each other and share recipes, skills and experiences. I am not the best cook in the world, but it might be fun to plan a whole meal with a friend, cook it for another group of people, and then have them return the favor the next week. Now that would be a cool bartering and learning experience! That would also be more inline with the idea behind Couchsurfing- making travel more reasonable for people with less money. 

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The Death of the Dinner Party: Too Many Diets

On the first day of class, when we were told to keep a blog, I knew immediately what I wanted my first post to be. There was a New York Times Complaint Box article a few years ago about the rise of new food activism and what that means for the modern dinner party. The author’s complaint was that with so many people trying a new restrictive diet, discovering some sort of new intolerance to some inconveniently common ingredient, and limiting the variety of foods they will eat, it is becoming very difficult to plan a dinner party.  Keep in mind this is a complaint box article meaning that it is meant to be received in a light-hearted manner.

Here is a link to the article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/complaint-box-picky-eaters/

The frenzy of comments after is even more interesting than the article itself. Days later, there was a follow-up post stating that that complaint box article received a record number of comments. I read through the first 350 (they were incredibly amusing) to put together this picture of what people were saying.

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Image from http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/complaint-box-picky-eaters/

In typical, self-important online commenter style, many users detailed their own dietary limits: vegetarian with exceptions, vegan, raw foods vegan, etc. These commenters were generally agreeable stating that they usually give the host plenty of notice, or offer to be uninvited, or even offer to provide a side dish or two. Others went into great depth about various medical conditions dictating their limitations and the complications (I’ll spare you the details). These commenters were generally very hostile and scolded the author for her discriminatory behavior.

Some of the readers were quite passionate. They used inflamed language, threatened each other, and were often downright outrageous. Here are a few examples:

“MEAT IS MURDER/DAIRY IS DYSFUNCTIONAL/HONEY IS SLAVERY”

“Kill the vegans!”

“To those who say kill the vegans (I am not vegan): I would rather kill the greedy carnivores who rape the oceans and lands just to tickle their delicate taste buds.”

Others felt very strongly that the author should not deal with all these requests. Several readers commented things like: “avoid these people” and “whatever you do, stop being a slave to these people”. Notice the incredibly isolating language of “these people”. The commenters do not want to be associated with “these people” they are creating an otherness, a minority.

Some comments were just downright snarky:

“I have a medically validated condition that forbids me from having meals not cooked personally by Daniel Boulud and having wine less than 100 years old. My religion also forbids me from paying for such meals. And of course my ethnic background dictates that YOU ALL have to bend over backwards for me.
God Bless America!”

Yikes!

In our class, we have acknowledged how food is emblematic of so many things making it very interesting to study. It reflects a person’s upbringing, values, culture, family, political views, morals, discipline, and just about any other quality. Some readers proved to be acutely aware of just how important food is to a person. One commenter described the picky eating habits of children as “defin[ing] their individuality”.  Another commenter said, “Food is supposed to be an adventure. It opens the mind and stimulates the senses. The tastes themselves help stimulate different parts of the brain and make for greater enlightenment.” Some of these people are really recognizing that the food you eat is very telling of who you are and the mentality you have.

I found this quote to be particularly interesting: “[vegans] need to get off their high horses once in a while and indulge us weaker eating out of your comfort zone is a temporary event; being rudely self-important and self-consumed will taint and haunt your ability to be a loving human for your entire life.”

This user is admitting they feel less moral for being a meat eater. They feel pressure to be “holier” and more mindful of what they eat. These feelings of guilt are coming out as anger and blame. This reader is referring to personal diet and lifestyle choices as rude and describing the people electing these diets as self-consumed and unable to be a loving person. It is obvious that this is just passionate language and logically diet choices have nothing to do with the capacity to love, but that is a quite audacious claim to make. Proof that people not only have strong feelings about what they eat personally, but also about what other people are eating.

This discussion caused commenters to even evoke their own, invented vocabulary terms to describe their feelings and experiences. One reader invented the term “orthorexia” to describe a sister-in-law who refuses to eat anything that not organic, local, fair-trade, green, etc. Another reader used the term “culinary bullying” to refer to other commenters who were suggesting it is okay not to accommodate everyone’s preferences when you are the host. She said it was “culinary bullying” to deliberately cook something you know someone in your party will not eat and expect them to try it.

Other readers make sweeping declarations based on the article and comments. One reader said, “stupid, pointless trivialities like this are ruining this country”. Another said, “How can people possibly create a peaceful world if they can’t even eat a meal together.” I happen to agree with that last one. We all need to be able to share a meal, share stories, share memories. It doesn’t matter to me what that meal consists of.

Finally one sage commenter noted with concise brilliance, “risotto”. Think about it: it really would address most of those concerns.  Risotto for the win!