How to Bring Back the Human Touch to Our Food Culture? With an App, of Course

03/06/2016 15:47 | Updated 03 June 2016


Image: John Atomic


When did one of the most basic, delightful things in life become anything but? When did it become about self-diagnosed intolerances, celebrity-inspired horoscope-alkaline diets, 89p microwave meals, lonely takeaways in plastic boxes, endless Pinterest boards and countless hashtags - and, perhaps the scariest of them all, draconian inventions such as Soylent?

On one hand, our food culture is thriving like never before. On the other, for or many of us, food is a source of anxiety rather than nourishment and pleasure. It's evolved into a controversial 'thing' to either obsess over or give zero f***s about while stuffing your face and arteries with yet another unhappy meal at the drive-through.

And it's often prepared, or ordered, and eaten alone. Yes, there's a record-breaking amount of buzz around food, but sometimes it seems the only social element here is actually the 'media'.

This wasn't always the case. Historically, food was a simple yet positive force and a powerful connector: eating was the glue keeping communities together and an act of love. Sharing really was caring. (If in doubt, watch the brilliant four-part Netflix documentary by Michael Pollan called Cooked. It provides a fascinating look at the role of cooking throughout centuries, and how we should reclaim the kitchen to restore a bit of humanity.)

Cooked. Image: Netflix

Alas, evolution doesn't really rewind. Regressing back to primitive hog roasts and communal cave cook-offs isn't going to go down well in Wholefoods on a Sunday afternoon (except on the paleo aisle). Instead, we need something that lets us keep our nutribullets and bespoke diet plans but brings back some of that long lost human touch - a bit more Gizzie, a bit less Gwynnie, if you wish.

Enter modern technology. If harnessed wisely, it enables us to take the occasionally necessary step backwards, while actually continuing pushing us forward. To have our cake but eat and Instagram it, too.

From this technological insight, combined with the global food craze, genuine love for authentic food and steady rise of urban communities: a new mobile app, Trybe, for everyone to buy and sell home-cooked meals. Simply put, it connects hungry people to those who love to cook and are damn good at it. This enables people to create new types of food "tribes" (clue is in the name).

Trybe draws inspiration from 'Restaurant Day', the wildly popular Nordic food carnival that lets anyone to open a pop-up restaurant for a day. Born in Helsinki five years ago, it has since spread to hundreds of different cities all over the world.

Restaurant Day in summery Helsinki. Image: Restaurant Day / Tuomas Sarpaneva

Trybe turns this celebration into a digital marketplace, in our pockets. It uses a hyperlocal mobile technology that lets foodies (or just plain hungry folks) pinpoint "secret chefs" in their neighbourhood. This locality creates trust - something desperately missing from today's food industry - as it's likely that you've bumped into the cook during a shop run or an evening jog.

After placing your order, you can either pick up the dish yourself and high-five the chef, or have it delivered to your door for convenience. Either way, your dinner is cooked by a real person, around the block, with love. Which, in turn, makes the neighbourhood feel more communal. Win win.

In addition to bringing back the joy to eating and making our concrete jungles less lonely, authentic food carries an enormous power to open minds and connect entire cultures: a traditional rogan josh cooked by your Kashmir-born neighbour is bound to take you on a journey, whereas a readymade low-carb curry from Tesco probably doesn't. While clothes, hairstyles and even Beyoncé have been used for or accused of ripping off other cultures, food seems to smoothly transcend borders and aid cultural exchange, not appropriation - although, not always without its problems either.

'Eat Drink Man Woman', a 1994 cult foodie film by Ang Lee, where family dinners, love and anxiety intertwine. Image: Mubi

The third interesting narrative around mobile meal market is about empowering home cooks to earn money with their passion - just like other creative individuals can do with sharing economy stalwarts such as Etsy and YouTube. A full-time career in a restaurant suits some, but shouldn't a stay-at-home dad with mad cooking skills, a keen weekend baker or a street food entrepreneur have a way of putting their craft into use, whenever and wherever they want?

Judging by the amount of food porn across the social media sphere, they are doing it anyway. Trybe merely continues the journey of a meal from Instagram to someone's actual dinner table. In real life. Where it ultimately belongs.

Textbook Instagram #foodporn. Image: Charlotte Hu

The app features all the usual community control functions, from giving 'likes' to cooks and user reviews to the opportunity to chat with the cook. And, it being 2016, cooks can broadcast live from their kitchens. From a customer's point of view, all this elevates the standard, impersonal process of ordering takeaway to a more fun, meaningful and truly social one.

By harnessing the indie chefs and undercover cooks amongst us we could, perhaps, make the world a little bit healthier, happier and smaller, one meal at a time - and have a tasty feast doing so.

All this with our mobile phones, of course. How else?

Interested? Trybe is now available for download on the App Store and Google Play and already growing rapidly - officially kicking off in London in mid-June. If you cook like a boss, sign up at

(Disclosure: the writer has been moonlighting for the Trybe London team because she is notoriously useless in the kitchen and would love to be able to locate a neighbour who makes a mean salmon and broccoli pie.)

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