Jason Savsani (striped shirt) shares a meal with locals during his Cambodia… (Jason Savsani/MealSharing.org )
When backpacking through Cambodia with a friend nearly two years ago, Chicagoan Jason Savsani made it a mission to find the most authentic meal.
After asking locals and laboring through several overpriced and Americanized meals, he approached a hotel employee.
“Hey, I’d like a home-cooked meal,” he said. He braced for the worst, not sure how this stranger would respond. “He was just like, ‘Cool,’” Savsani said. “I was really surprised. He called like 15 people that worked in the hotel and asked who could have us over for dinner. I think the beautiful part about that is I thought this would be met with resistance, or people looking around thinking, ‘Man, is this guy crazy or what?”
Savsani didn’t know it yet, but the experience would birth the idea of MealSharing.org, a social-networking site launched to the public five months ago that connects travelers with a home-cooked meal anywhere in the world.
“We were meeting local people, and we were eating local food,” Savsani said. “It doesn’t matter if I wasn’t able to--and still can’t--pronounce any of the food we were having. The point is, it was real.”
Today, MealSharing.org has hosts in every continent but Antarctica.
The site works like this: As a member you log on and request a meal prepared by a particular host on a particular date. The host may decline or accept. If accepted, the two parties message to discuss allergies, dietary restrictions and more until the meal is set.
But that doesn’t mean you have to make some award-winning casserole for the stranger who’s about to enter your home.
Savsani, 28, who grew up in Naperville and lives in the South Loop, said it’s all about being yourself.
“We don’t want you to feel like you’re on 'Top Chef,' ” Savsani said. “We just want you to make what you make on a typical night. We have some really talented chefs on the site, and then we have some people who say, 'I make a really mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and sometimes I put honey and bananas on it.'”
Currently, the site has more than 2,000 users worldwide and will likely see a bump in participation after this weekend.
MealSharing.org is the major partner of the second Global Sharing Day on Sunday, an event created by the U.K.-based organization The People Who Share to encourage the growing sharing economy.
“We want to show that sharing can transform your life and has enumerable benefits,” said Brendan Ward, a sharing associate with The People Who Share. “We also want people to know there are tons of sharing outlets out there.”
According to Ward, last year’s Global Sharing Day reached more than 60 million people in 147 different countries. The day spotlighted all sharing projects, including clothing swaps, book exchanges, ride swaps and more.
But this year there’s a focus--food.
Partnered with the Chicago-based MealSharing.org and several other meal-sharing websites, Global Sharing Day hopes to connect with millions around the world to set a world record for the most people sharing food in a single day.
Throughout the day, smaller meal shares will take place across the globe as well as larger, potluck-style events.
In Chicago, Savsani and many others are hosting a large event at 4 p.m. Sunday in Logan Square at 1836 N. California Ave. People are welcome stop by.
“When we get back into the kitchen and start cooking back home, it solves a lot of issues,” he said. “From obesity to starvation to simply people wasting too much food, it’s a good place to start.”
Adelaide Nelson, a 26-year-old resident of the South Loop, has known Savsani for eight years and has had a profile on MealSaring.org since its launch.
She plans to bring Vietnamese spring rolls and strawberry shortcakes to the Logan Square festivities.
But for Nelson, National Sharing Day is much more than a chance to sample some savory dishes.
“Food doesn’t have barriers,” Nelson said. “You meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. You hear their stories and experiences. You make friends. The dining table is the perfect cross-cultural meeting point.”
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