Join 3,514 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Like your Mother used to make
September 23, 2013 2:31 AM   Subscribe

"It's about coming together as a local community and sharing the fruits of your labour, your creation." In what has been described as a peer-to-peer community marketplace, people are connecting online with local cooks, who provide them with a meal for less than they would be likely to pay anywhere else. In Athens, the price is usually between three and four euros (£2.50 to £3.40).

Cookisto started as a Masters thesis by Michalis Gkontas (short talk transcript) and has attracted 12,00 cooks in Athens. It will shortly be opening up in London. As you'd expect, there's a video and a twitter. Bonus CNN video.
posted by arcticseal (28 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very cool, especially since the focus seems still on efficient personal usage, as opposed to new small business. Any thoughts on whether this benefits university students? i.e. save money vs. body can use the extra food?
Tangentially related : California becomes first state in nation to regulate ride-sharing
posted by jeffburdges at 2:48 AM on September 23, 2013


I think that this is really interesting, and I'd love to see the business plan for it.

According to their site they have 1,304 cooks and 14,259 foodies (I'm guessing that this is customers) so a bit more than 10 customers per cook. Do the customers order often?

Related - Cookening is a UK-based site where you eat with locals (rather than get take-outs from them as Cookisto offers)
posted by DanCall at 2:51 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think that this is really interesting, and I'd love to see the business plan for it.

In Athens, the price is usually between three and four euros (£2.50 to £3.40).

Versus a normal restaurant meal which would be what €20-€25? The business case is obviously built on exploiting the mark-ups arising from regulation (licenses, inspections, food storage facilities, insurance, etc.) and labor costs (including employer taxes) that a normal restaurant has. Fair enough. In principle the idea of people establishing peer-to-peer relationships is really not a matter for government. It's when peer-to-peer starts becoming one-to-many and starts looking like a business that the concept falls apart. Making an extra meal for one or two friends can not and should not possibly be a matter for government regulation. Making meals on a regular basis for 20 people you don't know makes you a restauranteur. I don't know where you draw the line here, but I'm hard-pressed to see how the scalable nature of peer-to-peer internet service does not always end up as Napster.
posted by three blind mice at 3:05 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Uh oh, somebody about a half-mile from me is making cupcakes. hmmmm.
posted by taz at 3:12 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Versus a normal restaurant meal which would be what €20-€25?

More like €8-€15 for places that would advertise as "home-cook" at current prices. Twenty euros per person is well inside fancy dinning territory for Athens.

It's when peer-to-peer starts becoming one-to-many and starts looking like a business that the concept falls apart.

The interesting part is that it looks like they don't want to be touching any of the business aspects of this, and they do not necessarily have to. Look at item #20 on their FAQ: if you are making any serious money on their site, they advise you to talk to your accountant - and presumably wash their hands of any implications.

I don't know how well this approach would hold up if things got serious - e.g. if tax authorities came knocking, or if someone got food poisoning and sued them - but I doesn't look fundamentaly unworkable.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:16 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


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.

Yeah, that's where I like published regulations, professional inspectors, and revokable licenses. But I'm even a bit wary of eating at a friend's place unless I've seen how they keep their kitchen. Some people I have been otherwise quite fond of have had kitchens where I wouldn't even want a cup of tea unless I could manage to casually rewash the cup first. "Rather than put you through the mess and bother, let's just go down to the cafe and I'll buy you a cake. Come on, I have the urge for their coffee."
posted by pracowity at 3:28 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd sympathize with that position except frequently the regulations enforce an existing quasi-criminal network of kickbacks, three blind mice. It's especially corrupt with taxis medallions, but the new CA regulations I linked sound sensible. In Greece, I'm sympathetic with citizens ignoring regulations after their government has lost so much legitimacy. You want to govern? Fine, don't fuck it up.

As for Cookisto outside Greece, I've many friends who cook enough food for a week and either share it around the house or eat it all week, so this helps them considerably. If cooks increase the portions dramatically, then yeah maybe food born diseases like Shigella occasionally get spread, but that's acceptable for a little social experimentation, disrupting networks of kickbacks, etc.

Also, few home cooks would manage to create anywhere near the disease vector even small restaurants provide. Just because restaurants submit to inspectors doesn't mean they don't bribe them, get advanced warning on inspections, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:29 AM on September 23, 2013


I now envision this having to go underground as a Tor hidden service, with illegal cooks and occasional raids by the governmental wing of the Golden Dawn.
posted by dhoe at 3:51 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, few home cooks would manage to create anywhere near the disease vector even small restaurants provide. Just because restaurants submit to inspectors doesn't mean they don't bribe them, get advanced warning on inspections, etc.

All fair comments jeffburdges which would suggest that there is little value from licensing and regulation and perhaps in parallel these burdens might also be removed from commercial restaurants since they do no good anyway? Or maybe licensing and regulation have value and should apply to anyone serving food to the public?

In Greece, I'm sympathetic with citizens ignoring regulations after their government has lost so much legitimacy.

Does it occur to you when you see all the unfinished roof-tops in Greece that citizens ignoring regulations (e.g., tax laws) is well part of the reason the government is in such a place? I can support disagreeing with the law, but I can't get down with ignoring the law. From the view of a resident of Northern Europe, Greece needs more rule of law and more citizens abiding by it; not less.
posted by three blind mice at 4:02 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I now envision this having to go underground as a Tor hidden service, with illegal cooks and occasional raids by the governmental wing of the Golden Dawn.

I know someone who wants to sell you BBQ from their trunk.
posted by arcticseal at 4:44 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My nope nope nope feelings about this are pretty much the same as the time we discussed the NYC version.

(but taz I hope you get tasty cupcakes one way or another!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:08 AM on September 23, 2013


Uh oh, somebody about a half-mile from me is making cupcakes. hmmmm.

Don't you already have cupcake radar that would tell you this anyway? I have a friend with pie radar -- we will be driving along in the countryside, and she will say "there is good pie somewhere close." And then we drive until she finds pie. It is often surprisingly good. Take that, internet!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:23 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, few home cooks would manage to create anywhere near the disease vector even small restaurants provide. Just because restaurants submit to inspectors doesn't mean they don't bribe them, get advanced warning on inspections, etc.

The competence required to properly bribe officials and still avoid attention for spreading disease is imho a pretty decent standard for restaurants. Even in cities like Chicago, where corruption is supposedly endemic, there are places that lose their licenses (even high end places - see Fox and Obel in the news lately) and also there is very little food poisoning. The system works because it is everyone's interest for it to work even for the corrupt restauranteurs and inspectors.
posted by srboisvert at 6:16 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


these burdens might also be removed from commercial restaurants since they do no good anyway? Or maybe licensing and regulation have value and should apply to anyone serving food to the public?

Absolutely not, all regulation must take scale into account. At festivals in Nevada, any camp kitchen cooking for at least 120 people including visitors requires state licenses, which encourages particularly large camps to break into "villages" with separate kitchens. Fewer people cooking together just doesn't create anywhere near the disease vector that restaurants do, not even with everyone sharing the same port-a-toilets. Should a 60 person girl scout troop really need state licenses?

There are inherently large scale activities like civil engineering that require blanket minimum standards. Turkey has serious problems with local communities ignoring building codes for example, which occasionally leads to important community buildings collapsing on people in earthquakes.

Yet conversely, regulation should never make small scale food operations inviable. Cops closing down lemonade stands? At small scales, regulators should acknowledge that diseases won't spread too widely even if someone screws up and back off.

In this case, there is an important distinction from resteraunts in that folk offer what they've cooked already, which limits scaling. Imagine a new take away that initially sees very customers per night. Do they need a license? Yes, they're actively trying to find enough customers that regulators should care. Also, there is nothing wrong with regulators scraping Cookisto to identify anyone operating at take away restaurant scales and warnings them that they needed a license to sell so much food.

Does it occur to you when you see all the unfinished roof-tops in Greece that citizens ignoring regulations (e.g., tax laws) is well part of the reason the government is in such a place?

Yes of course. But why do regulations get ignored? Are you going to claim "those Mediterranean people just want to keep bending all the rules?" Might it instead be that leaders must set an example by adhering to a higher standard?

As another example, do you know where American gun aficionados' fairly recent obsession with automatic weapons came from? Is it just be that they've more money now? Or might one major driver be the militarization of our police forces?
posted by jeffburdges at 6:25 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This opens an interesting epistemological question.
There is a high level of trust when someone else prepares your food. We don't trust commercial ventures so we construct a regulatory framework. But inspections are periodic and there is no one standing in every employee washroom to make sure every hand is washed. So we still have to trust in a kind of culinary institutional culture of which the regulatory framework is part.
The question here is can we establish an alternative model of trust? Can local internet groups grounded in non-virtual interactions, ie, steaming plates of delicious food, establish robust networks of trust? Can user feedback substitute for state certification? Will competition necessarily lead to people gaming the system? And there are the scalability questions. At what scale do inevitable errors and system-gamers start to have significant effects?
posted by Jode at 6:41 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jesus, it seems to me some people here are getting all High and Mighty. Look, the last official unemployment numbers for Greece are 27.90% of the working population. Under 25s? Around 65%. As it states in the first link, "people have reverted to old market behaviours that involve trust - swapping, sharing, renting, bartering". Strikes me these 'home cooks' in Athens are trying to make the best of a bad situation. There's a kind of solidarity here, the example of which might be worthy of attention. Yes?
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:16 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fewer people cooking together just doesn't create anywhere near the disease vector that restaurants do, not even with everyone sharing the same port-a-toilets

I'm not sure this really follows. Increasing the number of food sources might reduce the maximum effect that one infected/unsanitary source might have, but it wouldn't necessarily reduce the incidence of food-borne illness. More sources means a larger selection, but it doesn't necessarily mean a more sanitary population.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:47 AM on September 23, 2013


Are you then wishing to restrict home cooking, regulate sale of cooking implements, and require that everyone eat from licensed restaurants? If so, I bet MacDonald's is hiring lobbyists and policy wonks.

We only need to restrict the scale at which individual mistakes spread diseases because different strategies works best at different scales. Should Cookisto require users read an online health pamphlet and take a quiz the second time a user posts two offers within a one week period? Should they develop a machine learning algorithm that makes sure cooks see the health tips most relevant to the dishes they offer? I donno maybe, but very much not obvious just yet.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


few home cooks would manage to create anywhere near the disease vector even small restaurants provide

The great thing about Greece is that pretty much every single person is cleaner than me, at least in their homes (and I'm not exactly a slob... but I'm not exactly not a slob, either – don't worry, Athenian-Mefite-you-know-who-you-are, all foodstuffs will be scrupulously NOT disease vectorized when you come over for some of my legendary gumbo, promise).

Just yesterday I was reading something from Elena Vosnaki who writes about perfumery and scent, and she said, "In Greece, Febreze never caught on: it was introduced sometime around 2000 if memory serves well, promoted in super-markets as just the thing for difficult to wash car seats, but the Greek culture that adbhors "masking" dirt instead of getting down on your knees and scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing that floor to a shiny shine quickly purged it. No attempts for re-introducing it have been made, added fragrance or not, and I would assume that with our national streak of disliking "artificial" scents that are not actual perfumes for one's own skin it would not have sustenance.Unless it promised a mini-celebration of discovering the surefire way to make away with sovereign debt, naturally."

I always wondered why you can't find Febreze or similar here. But anyway, yeah, scrubby-scrubby. I'd have very little hesitation eating any of the food made by people participating in this. Realistically, I'd expect them to be a lot cleaner than 90% of the restaurants I've visited or ordered from.
posted by taz at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


My nope nope nope feelings about this are pretty much the same as the time we discussed the NYC version.

I don't get why this comes up in each post where someone cooks for anyone but their immediate blood relations. How do you people get through cocktail parties and Thanksgiving, in full biohazard suits?
posted by yerfatma at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Are you then wishing to restrict home cooking, regulate sale of cooking implements, and require that everyone eat from licensed restaurants?

It's not really home cooking when you're doing it for profit. Besides, most health and safety codes exempt personal use, whether it's cooking for yourself or doing your own plumbing.

We only need to restrict the scale at which individual mistakes spread diseases because different strategies works best at different scales.

Assuming that the number of people who are going to buy prepared meals is constant, the scale is the same whether you have 1 source or 100 sources. If the rate of mistakes is also constant (and why wouldn't it be), you haven't really solved any problems.

Should Cookisto require users read an online health pamphlet...

And if you're harmed by one of Cookisto's cooks? What then? Caveat emptor?
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:49 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Increasing the number of food sources might reduce the maximum effect that one infected/unsanitary source might have, but it wouldn't necessarily reduce the incidence of food-borne illness.

Since this depends on people making food in their home kitchens, people will presumably get sick from eating food purchased from cooks with Cookisto accounts at about the same rate people currently get sick from eating home-cooked food. The risk would be about the same as eating at a pot-luck dinner or a charity bake sale (both common and unregulated things here in the US).

I wouldn't be worried about buying food through a service like this. On the off chance I got sick, to be on the safe side, I wouldn't order food from the same cook again, and I'd post a review saying I got sick. If the same cook gets multiple reviews from people saying they got sick after they ate stuff they made, people are going to stop buying from them. If it happens a lot, they'll probably get banned.

If you're paranoid about eating food made by other people, obviously, don't use a service like this.
posted by nangar at 9:22 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


How long can you leave meat out unrefrigerated? Under what circumstances must kitchen people wash their hands? What's the right thing to do with food you have dropped on the floor or sneezed on? Nut "allergies" -- actual danger or just a wacky American idea? This thing has 12,000 kitchens with 12,000 cooks who, as far as I can see, could have 12,000 ideas of what makes acceptable cooking standards and no single authority to tell them otherwise.
posted by pracowity at 10:26 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not really home cooking when you're doing it for profit. ..

It's not really drug dealing when you're growing marijuana for personal use either, but that never stopped them. You know, those Nevada codes I cited cover just a big group of friends of friends cooking together, definitely non-profit. Also do children's lemonade stands really count as for-profit?

Assuming that the number of people who are going to buy prepared meals is constant, the scale is the same whether you have 1 source or 100 sources. If the rate of mistakes is also constant (and why wouldn't it be), you haven't really solved any problems.

Wrong. Infection rate is not constant over the short term. It reflects people's response to individual cases.

If you've one restaurant serving hundreds or thousands per day, then certain mistakes creates many infections, even if the overall rate remains low. If you've tens or hundreds of cooks serving handfuls every few days, then infected people respond by reporting the bad cooks to authorities and/or the site. If the site behaves responsibly by spreading this information, and advising other cooks, then the overall infection rate drops.

We developed regulation regimes as a tool to counter the large scale excesses of the industrial revolution, but frequently fails to fit alternative modes of commerce. In this case, there are epidemiological approaches such a site could employ, like making cooks read about hygiene, that'll likely beat any regulation program applied to restaurants. Imagine if sites like this ultimately decreased the overall prevalence of food born illnesses by teaching more people about better kitchen hygiene?

There are difficulties with traditional cheeses not fitting into E.U. regulations, despite the anyone sensible trusts the traditional cheeses more. All those E.U. regulations must restrain large publicly traded corporate cheese makers, who now probably stiffen the regulations to exclude traditional competitors.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2013


Wrong. Infection rate is not constant over the short term. It reflects people's response to individual cases.

Food-borne illness isn't like a communicable disease (although it can be). There are a lots of different mechanisms through which food becomes contaminated, and that informs preventative strategies. A system like this is probably the worst of both worlds in that there's no regulatory framework that would help prevent contamination in the first place, nor would it have any enforcement mechanism after the fact.

then infected people respond by reporting the bad cooks to authorities and/or the site. If the site behaves responsibly...

Right, after all, when has self-regulation ever failed?

We developed regulation regimes as a tool to counter the large scale excesses of the industrial revolution

These aren't industrial food producers. We're talking about something that would be the domain of a local health department, not the FDA or the USDA.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:38 AM on September 23, 2013


I never said all food-borne illnesses acted like communicable diseases, epidemiology commonly refers to education too, ala the examples I listed. Infection rate is not constant over the short term for any food-borne illness because information changes people's behavior.

I'd prefer if Cookisto were organized as a non-profit for exactly these reason, but..   Self-regulation only fails miserably with organizations that optimize everything for profit, ala industrial food producers, restaurants, etc. It works just fine with sufficiently small scale operations, like large camping trips, lemonade stands, etc. It'll work even better with an epidemiological approach to teaching food safety.

Yes, there are definitely ways that Cookisto might screw this up, but the upsides vastly outweigh the downsides. It'll all depend how Cookisto shepherds their site's culture, responds to illnesses, etc. Also, there is definitely an enforcement mechanism in that, if too many people get sick, the cops will jail you and make you fight the case in court.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:57 PM on September 23, 2013


Infection rate is not constant over the short term for any food-borne illness because information changes people's behavior.

Except there is no education component. If your contention is that there could exist a private website with enough safeguards in place to prevent and/or report food poisoning, that's one thing. But these are not things that exist in the current incarnation of Cookisto.

It works just fine with sufficiently small scale operations, like large camping trips, lemonade stands, etc.

There's no real evidence that this is true. You're confusing absence of evidence for evidence of absence. If you get sick on a camping trip, you don't report it to the local Department of Health. Likewise with a lemonade stand.

Also, there is definitely an enforcement mechanism in that, if too many people get sick, the cops will jail you and make you fight the case in court.

The cops do not arrest people for cases of unintentional food poisoning.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2013


Any startup evolves as it grows. If Cookisto wishes to grow, they cannot ignore the health issues indefinitely. Also, if you keep spreading food born illnesses, the cops can decide you're running an illegal restaurant, and arrest you, maybe you'll get off because you never sold enough food, but just not worth the effort.

As an aside, there is an attempt at resource sharing emergency responders, which sounds rather seriously failure prone. An intermediate responder system that connected with real emergency responders might prove useful though, so less "help me protect mah property!" and more "help I've fallen and I can't get up!"
posted by jeffburdges at 1:36 PM on October 2, 2013


« Older Australia has just had an election and the new Pri...  |  "Nobody misses the reference t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments