Re: Are meals an optional or required work expectation in your community?
From: Deborah Mensch (
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006 21:20:36 -0800 (PST)
Hi all,

At Pleasant Hill Cohousing our meal system is separate from our other work
system. Those who eat any meal in a 3-week rotation are expected to work
once in that rotation, either cooking, cleaning up, or doing child care for
a cook or cleaner. We are in the process of changing this to a
computer-based system that will require us to cook, clean, or do child care
once per 6 meals or so that we eat (this number may change as we tweak the
system), to accommodate people who are only able/willing to eat once in a
typical rotation and would like to be able to work proportionally. This
seemed to us like a fair way to work it out.

At our regional cohousing conference, I got the sense that people at Swan's
were more satisfied with their common meal system overall, and that it was a
huge component in maintaining a sense of community for them. They linger
over meals and conversation, have great meals and frequent desserts, and so
on. I also noticed that only one family at Swan's has a small child, and
there are two parents in that family. Here we have LOTS of young kids, many
of them in single-parent families. It makes me wonder whether a system with
universal expectations like those at Swan's is as attainable in a community
with demographics like ours. Even with child care offered, some parents
aren't willing to disrupt their children's homework/bedtime schedules to the
extent that cooking or cleaning would require. Others work late enough that
they can never cook except for weekend meals. Some of our residents have
dietary preferences or work schedules that keep them from attending many
common meals.

We're becoming known as one of the communities in our region that bends over
backwards the farthest to accomodate a variety of needs and preferences in
our policies. I'd be interested to hear from communities that have lots of
kids/single parents/vegans/etc. and still have universal cooking
requirements. Are you out there? How do you make it work?

Deborah Mensch
Pleasant Hill Cohousing, Bay Area, California

...where some of us drove up to play in the snow on Mount Diablo yesterday.
Snow! Wahoo!

On 3/3/06, Bonnie Fergusson <fergyb2 [at]> wrote:
>      At Swans Market Cohousing every adult community
> member is expected to cook once every cooking
> "rotation" (about once every 5 weeks in our community
> of 30 adults who cook in teams of two).  We have
> common meals three nights a week.  You don't have to
> eat at common dinner, we sign up for when we want to
> eat, don't sign up when we will be out of town, have
> other commitments, don't like what's on the menu that
> night or whatever.  You DO have to take a turn cooking
> however.  So eating is optional, cooking is not.
>     The rationale for this is that common meals are
> one of the most effective "community building" events
> that we know of.  The opportunity to eat with, chat
> with, and just generally enjoy the company of our
> neighbors at frequent regular meals helps keep us
> connected like no other activity we've tried.  Our
> common meals work really well and are much
> appreciated.  This is where the intention to "live in
> community" really shows at Swans.  It helps that the
> expectation that all would cook was established before
> move in and no one has ever suggested changing that in
> the years I've been here.  Other aspects of our Common
> meals come up for discussion and revision
> periodically, things like how many guests it's OK to
> invite at any given meal, late plates, changing the
> meal time in summer, etc. but never the basic concept
> of universal cooking participation.  My sense is that
> the issue of equal work often comes up in different
> ways in Cohousing and the solutions are continual
> works in progress.  Good luck in working it out.  I
> really recommend universal cooking participation.
>                 Bonnie Fergusson
>                 Swans Market Cohousing
>                 Oakland, CA
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