Interview with Ted D'Cruz-Young ~ Founder of Mealku

About a month ago, I received a press release about Mealku, a homemade meal cooperative in New York. I was absolutely enamored with the idea and wanted to know more.

Recently I had the chance to speak with Mealku's founder and leader, Ted D'Cruz-Young, who is also an advertising industry veteran.

One of the first things that I wanted to know right away was if Mealku would make its way to Massachusetts. I was assured that Mealku will indeed be coming to Boston! It's just a matter of time.

D'Cruz-Young says, "In just a few short months, Mealku is the largest food sharing cooperative in the country and the challenge is managing our growth."

He's not surprised by how quickly they've grown. "It's the way we used to operate before we forgot. Wasting less and sharing more. It still is the way in small towns and villages across the country."

He mentioned the recent article in The Atlantic exploring the massive amount of food waste in North America. 40% of our food is wasted. A family of four loses up to $2,000.00 a year in wasted food.

D'Cruz-Young elaborates. "This is not a trajectory that is sustainable. It has to change. There is a disconnect. We've outsourced our thinking on food. Large food companies have confused us." 

While not surprised by the fast growth of Mealku, he is surprised that this is news. I agree. Sharing our food, so we can have variety and reduce waste is quite a simple concept and makes sense.

I did have one mental hurdle to get over though. We have to trust people that we don't know with our food.

Then D'Cruz-Young said something that shifted my mind forever.  "When we're going to McDonald's or Subway and the food is prepared by someone who is barely making a living, is that better than someone who is preparing food at home for their children?"
I really had to think about it. While there are health rules and regulations for restaurants, we know that things happen to our food when others handle it.

An article on the lack of paid time off for food service workers, makes it impossible for many to take a sick day. They are paid little, usually don't have health insurance, and cannot afford to miss a pay day. So they go to work sick and then handle our food. It probably requires a bit of denial on our part not to think about it.

D'Cruz-Young says, "We've outsourced food and want to trust those sources, but they are imperfect. It's hard to admit that we don't trust them. There are a range of institutions that we don't trust."

He gives our banking system as an example, but then says that no one has anywhere to hide anymore. "We are all digitally marked. Like the village of long ago. We live in an age where we can have information on anyone. Think about trust and verification technologies. We meet through these means first. Like the village shoemaker of long ago. If he made bad shoes, everyone in the village would know and stop going to him."

What he says about us living in a kind of global village where we all can get so much information about anyone at any time is very true.

This idea of the village is how Mealku works. They visit people in their homes to see the setup of their kitchens and ask them questions. Finding their motivational intent is key,  says D'Cruz-Young. "It's all in the intent of the participants."

Members of Mealku are sharing the food that they cook for their families and themselves. They are not paid for what they prepare and those who eat their food don't pay for the meals.

After you think about the idea of who cooks your food when you eat out and making that mind shift, if you are comfortable eating at a restaurant, you should be comfortable using Mealku. There is a great deal of trust involved with having other people prepare our food. We have to trust in their good intentions and careful clean habits. Because our lives are literally on the line.

I asked if he has received any complaints or push back from food businesses or restaurants, because I could see where Mealku could be real competition. Food Trucks are already evoking the ire of many brick and mortar food establishments in Boston.

He says that he hasn't seen push back yet, but he expects it eventually. His reaction is that there is safety in numbers. "We are a food sharing cooperative. We are wasting less and eating better."

Since I love food myself, I was curious about some of the meals that people are requesting. What are the most popular ones?

D'Cruz-Young says that he sees clusters. People are choosing foods that they sense they cannot get anywhere else. He said that the Paleo diet is big. I had to admit that I wasn't familiar with it.  Apparently it's eating like a caveman, who were hunter gatherers. The food is from the Paleolithic era, so if a caveman didn't eat, then neither should we.

Pesceterian meals are also popular. "Tribes are emerging," he says. "New York City is one of the largest kitchens in the world. If you have a nut allergy and want to increase what you can eat, connect with similar people and expand your meals."

Then he takes it up another notch. "The level of waste in our system is phenomenal. Start with empathy. There are other people with the same challenges we have. We have to get past consumerism. And I'm an economist by training. We evolve fast from cooperating with each other. There is a fundamental change and shift that has to happen."

I understand what he is saying. We have to be happier with consuming less and sharing more. I mentioned that I see it in the tiny house movement. He agreed and says, "This is not a cycle. It's a fundamental shift. Look at Occupy Wall Street. Change happens. It just has to. There is only one trajectory here. And it is not the Walmart or Sam's Club solution of buying more."

Mealku may spark a new food sharing revolution. So it makes sense that Jamie Oliver's Food Foundation will be the primary recipient of Mealku's monthly cooperative funding commitment.

Change has to start somewhere. Mealku's mission may change the way many of us think about getting our food and it's something that I'm very excited to see.

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