RE: Meals and Dietary Preferences & Requirements
From: Dahako (
Date: Tue, 3 Jul 2001 09:52:01 -0600 (MDT)
Hi all-

We often joke that the one thing our group members have in common is food.  
Still, accommodating food preferences has been an issue for us, too, cycling up 
and down emotionally over time and with membership and food preference changes 
within the group.  We also had an issue early on with a division of opinion 
about whether common meals should be "special" meals or everyday food. (The 
answer to that one turned out to be some of each.)

The most important thing to me about the shared meal tradition is not how you 
accommodate preferences, or how well you cook or menu plan, or whether it all 
looks pretty and tastes heavenly.  These are good to do and I do try to do 
them.  To me, though, what matters is to make your guests, your friends, your 
neighbors, feel welcome and to give them the gift of knowing the hospitality of 
the whole community is extended to them. That's what makes a meal a joy to make 
and serve and eat and clean up after. That's what makes your community stronger.

 When I joined the Eno Commons group in 1996, it had a pre-existing commitment 
to always have at least a vegetarian option at every community meal.  Because 
my household is on the vegetarian continuum, I appreciated (and continue to 
appreciate) this commitment. This commitment appeared in some of our literature 
and certainly in many of my marketing spiels (oops! I mean "presentations").   
So people joined with certain expectations. I think we only have three 
vegetarian or vegan households, but every meal has a vegetarian option (or, 
often, a combination of "side" dishes that works out to a whole veg meal) that 
generally gets eaten up as fast as the meat option.  Our sole vegan is 
sometimes out of luck, but he is fortunately comfortable eating what works for 
him and cheerfully reminding people from time to time about his preferences.  I 
think his benevolent flexibility and calm persistence about his beliefs are 
wonderful tools to get cooks to oblige his beliefs.

Other food issues are more thorny and the combination can present quite the 
hospitality challenge.  At least one carnivorous adult member is 
gluten-intolerant.  One adult has a dangerous allergy to any kind of fish.  Two 
kids are deathly allergic to peanuts.  Several have suspected allergies or 
special diets for other reasons.  Three are diabetic.  As a rule, we've banned 
peanuts from the commons house because the kids can't be relied on to keep 
themselves safe. A vegetarian option is always offered anyway, so the fish 
allergy is easy to work around.  The gluten-intolerance is tougher - especially 
with wheat being in most soy sauces, but cooks generally try and sometimes get 
quite creative with menus. We don't always succeed in accommodating different 
preferences, or in feeling hospitable about the neighbors who are making our 
turns at cooking more complicated, but we usually try.  I know I'm here in 
cohousing because I think trying to be a better community member is a more us!
eful and worthy and fulfilling l
ife choice than is closing myself off and getting my own way all the time.  For 
me, participating in common meals is a key expression of that choice.

Jessie Handforth Kome
Eno Commons
Durham, NC
"Where the community garden is mysteriously more verdant on the west side than 
the east and theories abound."

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