Don’t call MealSurfers “the Uber for food.” Co-founder Ali Jiwani says it’s more akin to Etsy

It’s been extensively argued that the rise of the so-called “gig” economy has disadvantaged employees, who shoulder more risk and uncertainty through independent contract work, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Uber and its ilk, which have circumvented employment laws, have been considered the most damaging for workers. On the other hand are platforms like Etsy. The craft-selling site aims to “reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.”

Among these examples, one business is driven to marginalize drivers in an effort to provide services more cheaply, while the other wants to craft their own livelihoods around their creativity and individuality.

MealSurfers co-founder Ali Jiwani said in a recent editorial that this “Uberfication” of work is different from Etsy-style “Micro-entrepreneurship.”

Jiwani said his service, which allows chefs to sell their meals without opening a restaurant, follows Etsy’s model – not Uber’s. He wrote,

It made sense to build a platform, which empowered local chefs or people that can cook to sell their foods to people within their own neighbourhood or community.  These meals would be healthier, cheaper, quicker, and you would know the person who made the meal just for you.  It was not until people assumed it was like the Uber for food, that I realized that this was not the case.

Basically, the parameters that make users micro-entrepreneurs is that chefs can set the price, meals, and order/pickup times. Just like Etsy, MealSurfers allows its users to have individual variations and encourages user creativity rather than organizing their work as a commodity to be sold at the cheapest price.

In previous eras, efforts to minimize the costs of ingredients and labour have resulted in fast food, which neither fully satisfies cooks nor consumers. With the massive restructuring of work into the gig economy, it will be interesting to see if we continue along the cost-cutting path, or help workers share in the gains of the new economy.