Edmonton food sharing company flouts rules, follows in Uber’s steps

A small local food-sharing company is following on the heels of global ride-sharing company Uber, flouting the rules while operating in Edmonton.

Kian Parseyan launched food-sharing firm Scarf on Sept 1, after failing to receive government approval.

“We are doing the best we can to maintain safety,” Parseyan said Friday. “We want to work with Alberta Health. We want to. They said no.”

The company’s website — get scarf — displays pictures of meals being prepared by nearby local cooks. One search turned up a wide range of meals, including veggie lasagna, meat loaf stuffed with mac and cheese, parmesan crusted snapper and cilantro lime chilli. Chefs set the prices for each meal at about $11.

Customers purchase a portion in advance, pay on the site, then pick up their food. Scarf receives a 20 per cent cut.

We want to work with Alberta Health…They said no.’
– Kian Parseyan

Parseyan said the business opened after a year of research and planning. But last summer Alberta Health informed him in a letter they couldn’t support his venture.

Parseyan said he asked himself: “How did Uber make it through the regulations? What did they do?”

The ride service eventually became legal in Edmonton, but only after a lengthy battle, during which it often operated outside the law.

Parseyan said a politician he spoke with, who he refused to identify, suggested it was better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, so he decided to go ahead with the business.

“I think we’re about 30 years behind in terms of when the laws were written and what they would look for, because the current regulations do not really accommodate the current technology that’s available,” said Parseyan.

Scarf meal

Kian Parseyan ordered this meal yesterday off of Scarf.

In an emailed statement, Alberta Health Services said all food operators must have a food permit, provided by AHS following an inspection and approval.

“AHS is aware of this website/operation, and has had multiple discussions with the individual leading this,” reads the statement. “At this time, we cannot speak further to this, as we consider our next steps regarding this operation.

“We are here to help Albertans serve safe food and to support them in complying with the regulations that are designed to protect our health and the safe delivery of these operations,” the statement adds.

But Parseyan insisted his operation is safe. He said chefs undergo criminal background checks and they are tested for their knowledge of food safety, while the kitchens undergo inspections.

Convenient, affordable nutrition

He also argued that poor nutrition, which can lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease, is much more dangerous than food-borne illness.

“Adding to people’s convenient access to affordable nutrition — that is the long-term way we help society,” he said.

His company is the latest to pop up in the sharing economy that includes people providing dinners, accommodations or dog kennels from their own homes, or use of their vehicles.

So far, said Parseyan, less than 50 customers are using Scarf, with food provided by about 30 verified cooks. He said those offering meals range from vegan cooks and warm welcoming moms to red seal chefs.

Parseyan said the idea for Scarf was inspired by his own personal experience working long hours as a young professional on a small budget.

He put an ad in a community newsletter looking for people to make healthy, home cooked meals and soon had several offers to choose from each night.  

“This feeling I got from being able to just walk for two minutes, pick up a meal and just come back home, eat and keep working — it was so fantastic I had to share this idea with this world,” he said.   @andreahuncar

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