Re: how many people for common meal...just starting
From: Bonnie Fergusson (
Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 14:57:12 -0700 (PDT)
   We at Swans Market Cohousing have 20 households and
anywhere from 18 to 30 folks at common meals three
times a week.  We have a clear agreement in the
community that every adult cooks once a
"rotation"--that is once approximately every 4-5
weeks--in teams of 2.  We find that a team of 2 works
and a team of 3 is easier (sometimes we have extra
help, of varying ages at some meals).  I agree that if
you use 6 people at each meal everyone will be on duty
very often and this will make it seem more burdensome.
 People worry a lot about all the work to cook for
such a large group but in practice we all quickly
learn to adapt our recipes for this.  Simplify,
Simplify, Simplify.  The things we cook for common
dinner are not exactly the same as what we cook for
ourselves at home.  Dessert is often fresh fruit
(melons, currently) or ice cream, only occasionally a
baked thing.  A large green salad using mixed green's 
from the farmers market is pretty much a staple.  So
only the main dish (s) and or a vegetable really
require much prep.  As for clean up, everyone puts
their own dishes in the dishwasher so the clean up is
storing or giving away any leftover food, sweeping the
floors, wiping down tables and kitchen prep surfaces,
taking down the garbage and the compostables, and
starting the dishwashers.  Usually the next team to
cook, empties the machines of clean dishes and puts
them away.  The teams themselves decide the menus and
who will shop for what.  Sometimes one person will
cook something ahead and the other will put it in the
oven to heat up on the appropriate meal day.  This is
one of the ways we accomadate difficult work
scheduling issues.  Also because we only cook about
once a month people are generous with their time and
quick to jump in to help when things go awry
(sickness, work or family emergencies) with the
cooking plans.  I would say our common meals are very
successful and one of the main "glues" in our
community building processes.  We hire an outside
cleaner to do a more thorough common house cleaning
(including the kitchen) once every 3 weeks.  This was
a partial solution to differing standards of required
   I know that many communities do the separate teams
for cooking and cleaning thing but if the same team
that cooks cleans up after itself that prevents
resentments from building between neater and messier
cooks and encourages the cooks to "clean as they go"
which works better in my opinion.  
   We also have a "late plate" policy in place which
is a little more controversial.  If you want common
dinner but know you will be late you sign up for a
"late plate" and the cooks will fix a plate of food
for you and save it so it will be there when you
arrive however much later.  The controvery swirls
around late plates because common meals are supposed
to be about community building and if there are too
many late plates at any given meal the cooks start
feeling less like community builders and more like
they are running a restaurant and some resent it.
So far everyone has deeply appreciated the option for
late plates at sometime or another so we are reluctant
to eliminate them.  Our current solution is to ask
folk to be mindful and not sign up for a late plate if
there are already many other late plates signed up so
the cooks don't get overburdened.  We also ask
partners at common meals to make their absent partners
late plates from the available food to take the burden
off the cooks as much as possible.  Good luck in
establishing your common meals.  They are lots of fun
and a great timesaver for most families because of all
those days you can just come home and eat without
worrying about meal planning, shopping, cooking and
clean up.  To say nothing of the pleasure of keeping
up with your community neighbors' day to day lives.
                Bonnie Fergusson
                Swan's Market Cohousing
                Oakland, CA

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