Greece is, economically, a mess. With a youth unemployment rate exceeding 65 percent, leaving two-thirds of the nation’s young people unable to find a job, there is not much to celebrate in a country where family life – like many cultures – revolves around meals. Greece is also facing a sharp decline in population. Here is a story of what happens when people who love to cook, but have no one to cook for, meet people who love to eat, but have little money for food.
Marilena Zachou admits she could never get portions right. “I was throwing away so much. I guess making too much food is embedded in my Greek genes.” Entrepreneurship student Michalis Gkontas realized that there were many women like Zachou, and many hungry students like himself. What started as his master’s thesis business plan became Cookisto, a website where cooks and those seeking good, cheap meals (about $4) connect.
It is a win-win situation,” says the 26-year-old Gkontas. “The cooks get to earn a little extra, while foodies get nutritious home-cooked dishes for cheaper than if they were to get a takeaway.”
He is one of many young Greeks turning to the start-up scene following the rise of unemployment to a staggering 27.9%, and the rapid shrinkage of the once-bloated public sector – long the natural choice for many graduates.
For Zachou, the extra money she makes from Cookisto, about 200 euros [about $270] a month, goes towards the supermarket shop.
“It’s not all about the money,” she says. “I feel we are pulling together in the crisis. Many students are struggling to make ends meet. I’ve been there… fed up of eating bread and takeaways. It’s nice I can provide them with food their mothers would cook and for very little.”
The Cookisto community is beginning to organize get-togethers for lunch and dinner as well. It is becoming more about community and sharing a meal, rather than simply a take-out service. In a nation reeling from economic recession and loss of traditional family life, Cookisto is a lifeline. Those with skills get to share the fruits of their labors, those lacking connections are finding ways to connect over a home-cooked meal, and people are taking care of one another. Strangers become friends, bread is broken and a meal becomes something more than just food on the table.