Let’s Meet at a Meetup Group
Ventura County meet-ups serve up camaraderie and connections
Eight women, mostly in their 30s, sat around an airy kitchen island discussing “foods to make you feel and look younger” and making parfaits with coconut cream, kefir, nuts, berries, maple syrup and vanilla. Strangers before arriving at Jeniffer Alburquerque’s Oxnard home, they left with friendship and information.
This group came together thanks to, among other things, the popular friend-meeting website Meetup.com. Scott Heiferman founded the company in 2002 after experiencing the heartfelt camaraderie of his Lower Manhattan community following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Today, the site hosts more than 30 million members in 182 countries. It serves as a hub for people to meet others nearby and to inspire a sense of community around a common factor.
Unlike, say, dating apps, Meetup connects people with shared interests for ongoing group hangouts. There are Ventura County Meetup groups for people who want to do beach bike rides, hiking, tech activities and craft beer or wine tasting, among other things.
In the food and drink category, there’s a growing interest from healthy lifestyle seekers—looking for everything from vegan, Paleo and gluten-free to healthy approaches to dinnertime—local group leaders told me.
“I know there are more Meetup groups out there regarding healthier lifestyles. I am notified all the time about new groups that have formed,” says Edie Ruge, 59, a certified health and wellness coach who started Newbury Park Healthy Cooking, Healthy Life in 2014.
The same year, Heather Ann Clark, 41, founded Vegan Ventura Gatherings. The fulltime medical caregiver started the group because she couldn’t find an active vegan group in West County when she moved there, she says.
“I’ve seen a progression in the three years since I moved here,” Clark says, adding, “I’m shocked at how many people are signing up lately.”
You have to wonder: Would all of these people have found each other without the internet? It’s entirely possible, but these groups certainly wouldn’t be quite as organized, so quickly.
“I think Meetup really helped me create a group,” says Alburquerque, 30, of Health and Beauty from Within. She started the Oxnard group earlier this year after having attended numerous other Meetups and hosting a different group.
“I tried using my Facebook page and creating events but your message gets lost very quickly. With Meetup, it really narrows down the interest and it makes it easier to connect with locals,” she says.
Alburquerque’s healthy-eating philosophy doesn’t adhere to a specific lifestyle; instead she focuses on “quality of foods.” She’s big on gluten-free, which appeals to the Paleo community, she says, and also likes sprouted grains and raw dairy.
“I like to show to people that going back to our roots is the way to go, healthy fats are not bad, low sugar is better. [I’m] giving them options of how to live a life without refined flours or sugars, motivating with information, and showing them you can still thrill your taste buds with healthy foods,” says the native of Peru, who is a nutritional therapy practitioner.
She created a recipe app and blog dubbed Naked Flavors, and self-published a book called Healthy Gut Happy You.
About 38 people are signed up for the Health and Beauty from Within Meetup, with a third of those attending each time. While the group is mostly women, some men attend as well.
“My mission is to empower people through nutrition so they can love every single inch of their unique selves,” she says.
A desire to empower people to live a vibrant, energized and balanced life is also what led Ruge to start her Newbury Park–based meet-up as a monthly workshop-style group with a discussion component. Instead of focusing on gourmet cooking, the growing group is geared toward daily kitchen life. There are guided group discussions, sharing of ideas and often hands-on activities in the kitchen.
“We inspire each other and we always get to taste new and wonderful healthy food,” she says enthusiastically.
Her mission is to help people make small, lasting, lifestyle changes. She wants them to be able to make their own food choices by knowing what’s in their food and what it can do for their body, mind and spirit. She personally eats a mostly plant-based and gluten-free diet and has maintained a 110-pound weight loss for the past decade, but runs the group based on people’s personal preferences.