Re: Cooking as a social ingredient
From: pattymara (
Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2002 09:20:02 -0700 (MST)
At Tierra Nueva, Central CA coast,  we are in our fifth year of living
together.  Common meals have been offered on an average of 2 or 3 meals
per week.  The only constant we can count on is that everything changes. 
I've noticed cycles of participation which then change into cycles of low
energy.   I've learned to trust in change.  It seems to always circle
round, and I think that the circles are a spiral:  we are learning as we
go, and that accumulated learning creates trust.  

So now, when attendance at meals drops, or more importantly, cook teams
don't sign up to create meals in the first place, I don't panic.  LIfe is
happening to all of us, and we all have changing needs for socialization,
or cocooning in our own homes.

Background Info:  Comida Nueva is set up to have 3 cooks (1 lead, 2
helpers) and 3 cleaners.  Cooks eat free.  Cleaners get half off.  Meals
are $3.00 for adults, $1.50 for kids, $4.00 for guests.   The overall
"rhythm" that we have agreed upon is:  if you eat, then you sign up to
either cook or clean once or twice a month. 

I just assumed the role of kitchen manager this month.  As an exercise to
bring me up to speed concerning the "state of the union" of Comida Nueva
I recorded every signed-up cook and cleaner for the month of November. 
We have 2 meals per week scheduled through the month of November,
including two Thanksgiving potlucks (Thurs and Sat.).  The results:  of
the 47 adults at Tierra Nueva, 28 signed up to either cook or clean. 
Half of the 27 worked once, half of them worked twice, and 2 of them
worked 3 or 4 times each (go figure, they just love to do it).  19 adults
did not sign up at all.  Of these 19,  only two people choose regularly
to not attend meals.  The others do participate in eating with us, but
their lives were in some kind of overload, such as time in the hospital,
relationship crisis, time out of town at a meditation retreat, or being
on a special diet.  Most of the 19 who did not cook or clean in November,
DO sign up normally. 

Now with this in mind, I can tell you that the general feeling in the
community was that we were not living up to our desired expectations of
having 3 meals together a week.  We cut down the meal sign ups in the
early fall of this year to 2 meals a week, because cooks simply weren't
signing up to create the meals. 

Experience has proven:  If you cook, they will come.  Rob's question
about the level of social intimacy in the context of eating together,
would have to include the notion that in order for folks to gather
together to EAT, there first has to be the willingness of cooks to COOK,
and cleaners to CLEAN.  

Getting cooks to commit to signing up to do the work of planning,
shopping, prep and cooking is the biggest hurdle.   The very act of
cooking together on a team involves a level of social intimacy.    

Some cook teams have been working together for 3 or 4 years, comfortable
with one another, and very regular in their willingness to sign up.  
They spend oodles of time (in my opinion) shopping together, sometimes
even having lunch out together, and then a couple of days chopping and
prepping and cooking.  

Other cooks seem to be able to handle the work with a seeming minimum of
time and effort.  They work alone, or with a helper, and pull off great
meals.   We have a couple of former chefs, or bakers, who have high skill
levels for cooking for crowds.  The notion of cooking for fifty is
undaunting.  I'm one of these cooks.   It comes easy to us, and doesn't
consume more than a few hours of concentrated time.  

The rest of the group is somewhere in the middle. On average I would
estimate that the middle group of cooking teams spend 5-8 hours to create
a meal.  (planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, setting tables).  

Then there are the Clean Teams.  We don't discriminate between the two
teams.  The time investment for most clean teams is about 2 hours, which
is less than the time it takes to be on a cook team.  But some folks just
clean, and that's just fine.  Whatever.   Some folks always clean, and
hardly ever cook.  Some people do both.   If a cook team signs up to
cook, we can rustle up cleaners with little effort. 

At our last community life meeting I floated the suggestion that we play
a game for the month of December to sign up cooks and cleaners with the
goal of providing 3 meals a week.  I asked if folks were willing to
participate in the game, which would mix up cook and clean teams with a
random drawing of names.  The group was willing with some private
trepidation,  because we had grown familiar with our self-selected teams
of friends.  

At the most recent business meeting we voluntarily put our names in a
bowl on different colors of post-it notes (for head cook, helper cook,
cleaners).  Special instructions could include "Wed. only" or "early in
the month"  A very organized person, Susan, created a big chart with the
Monday, Wednesdays and Saturdays of December.  And started pulling names
for each of the meals.    After about 15 minutes the entire schedule was
full, except for Christmas week and a few open slots sprinkled throughout
the month.  Since we rarely have full attendance of members at business
meetings, those who were not present at the drawing, have been signing up
in the empty slots and we are well on our way to a full schedule.   

Provided with the opportunity to play a game, we now have a couple of
guys on the schedule as helper cooks who have never signed up to cook
before.  That is really exciting to me.  With the experience of doing it
under their belt, my hope is that they will gain confidence to sign up
regularly.  We'll see!

Back to Rob's questions:
>Are there any communities out there on the list  which are on the low
side (four meals a month or less) who feel their >social intimacy level
is high? 
>Or how about the opposite, groups with many meals, 12 or more a month,
which have a 
> low social intimacy?
> Or to put it another way, is there a relationship between eating 
> together and social cohesion as a community?

Tierra Nueva would be on the higher number of meals per month 8 - 12 a
month.  When we have fewer meals the social intimacy feels about the same
as when we have more meals per month.  There is another distinction to be
made:  some meals are smaller in attendance, because of a range of 
reasons:  weird food, past experience with the cook's expertise or just a
scheduling problem.  I happen to enjoy the smaller meals.  There is a
quiet intimacy to just 20 people in the room, compared to a fully
attended popular meal where 60 sign up and fill up the place.  

There is a relationship between eating together and social cohesion as a
community, but I would clarify it further by saying that the most
critical aspect is whether cooks commit to doing the work of
cooking....and from there, the rest follows.  The act of cooking together
creates social intimacy among themselves, and allows for the experience
of groups eating together.  And cleaners, well, they have to be
appreciated too.  

We're experimenting with rearranging the comfort levels of the cook teams
by scheduling the month of December with a random drawing....I look
forward to seeing how this affects the levels of social intimacy, in the
"getting to know you" department.  It should be interesting. 

everything changes,
Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva, central CA coast.


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