NÜDL: Connecting students through meals

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NÜDL has a simple mission: to bring students together through a meal.

It’s a simple idea, actually: find students that want to cook and open up their homes, and connect them with students that are looking for an affordable, home-cooked meal.

And even though it’s not complicated, it’s a fantastic concept. It’s an easy, cheap solution to a question I’ve struggled over far too often since moving off campus: what am I going to do for dinner tonight?

NÜDL tries to solve that problem by creating a network where students can sign up to attend meals cooked by fellow Macalester students.

A few weeks in, and NÜDL has already hosted over 30 Mealshares and served over 200 students.

I gave it a try myself and went to a Mealshare on Monday evening at Anna Lee’s ’16 house. I signed up earlier that day online and got a Google Calendar invite soon after with more details on when and where to go for my meal.

Anna prepared a meal of balsamic berry salad and roasted garlic pasta. The food was ready when we arrived, and it was delicious. We all helped ourselves to multiple servings, and spruced up our meals with plenty of pine nuts and parmesan cheese that was available.

I sat around her table with five other Mac students. Some of them I knew in passing, while others I had never met. I can’t speak for the others, but I really enjoyed the chance to share a meal with new people.

I don’t think too much about what I’m cooking most of the time. Because my money and time are limited, most of the food I end up eating isn’t interesting. And I eat a lot of meals alone, because I’m pressed for time day to day. It does the job, but eating is never an exciting experience for me.

That’s why I enjoyed my Mealshare so much. It took what had become such a routine, bland experience for me and made it a fulfilling, communal experience.

Alex Dangel ’16 and Caitlin Toner ’15 created NÜDL over the summer through Mac Startups, and went to work to fix problems that exist in the American food system.

“I was convinced that there were problems [with our food system],” Dangel said. He and Toner explored options for their startup, such as making grocery shopping easier, connecting students with vegetables and other issues. Eventually, they settled on Mealshare: a social network that would make it much easier for Mac students to have a communal, home-cooked meal.

“When it comes to eating, we often pick convenience over something that’s good for us,” Dangel said. “Getting together around a meal also creates a positive environment around food. Eating by yourself, eating a microwave meal, is what we often resort to, but it doesn’t make us happy.”

Enter NÜDL.

Every week, NÜDL finds students to host Mealshares. The hosts decides the menu, the time, and the cost of the meal. NÜDL sends out the schedule of Mealshares on Facebook and by email. There’s no shortage of meals: this week alone had Mealshares of ratatouille, tater tot hot dish, sweet potato edamame wraps, German-Mexican fusion and vegetarian fried rice, so it’s easy to find a meal that works for your schedule and your palate.

NÜDL presented at Mac Startup’s Demo Day yesterday, and hopes to eventually expand in the future; according to Dangel, this may involve reaching out to Macalester alums in the area or other Twin Cities college students. They are also working on a website and mobile app.

But for now, it’s going to continue doing what it does well: connecting students and meals.

“It’s not just an app that you open up on your phone to figure out groceries. You get to meet people, and create a positive experience every day of your life if you want to. And that’s what’s exciting.”