Re: Meal Participation Program
From: Bonnie Fergusson (
Date: Fri, 22 Jan 2010 12:40:36 -0800 (PST)
    At Swans Market in Oakland all adults (30) are required to cook.  We have 3 
common dinners a week and cook/meal plan/clean up in teams of 2 or occasionally 
3.  People sign up for meals they wish to eat, cooking is required but not 
    Our cooking "rotations" last about 5 weeks and we each sign up to cook once 
in each rotation.  This works pretty well since it can accommodate out of town 
trips for up to 6-8 weeks without any special difficulties.  Cooks sign up on 
the main Community Calendar (used for meal sign ups, guest room sign ups, and 
Common House event sign ups) which is kept near the front door of the Common 
   We have a separate binder for Meals which has pages for each day we have a 
common meal.  On these pages, every resident is listed so you just have to 
check the box by your name to sign up for a specific meal.  Also on the page is 
a space for the menu to be posted by the cooks, so you can see what you are 
signing up for, and space for the cooks to record what they spend for 
ingredients.  Our pantry is stocked by our Common House committee with basics 
like rice, flour, sugar, oil, vinegar, spices etc.  Everything else needed for 
the meal is bought by the cooks. 
There are also boxes to check to request a vegetarian entree or a late plate 
and lines where you can sign guests up for that meal.
    Once every 6 months or so, the common house committee has someone 
"reconcile" meal costs (sort of like reconciling your checkbook).  This 
involves dividing the total amount spent by the cooks of each meal by the 
number of people who ate that meal (can vary between 12-39 but is usually 
around 24) to get a cost per person for that meal.  Each person is then 
"charged" that amount for that meal.    The cost of guests meals is charged to 
the host of that guest. The amount that person spent on ingredients for meals 
they cooked in that 6 months is then subtracted from the amount they are 
charged for meals they ate during that 6 months and then they either owe the 
difference or are owed the difference and money changes hands.  Those who owe 
money pay the member in charge of this what they owe and that member 
distributes the money to those who are owed money.  
     This system has worked well for the 10 years it has been in place, it has 
been tweaked a little every now and then but the basics have remained 
consistent.  We recently adjusted the average cost per head that we aim for at 
Common Meals to $4 (from $3.50) to reflect inflation in food costs.  Some meals 
cost a little more, some less but over the past 6 months they have averaged 
less than $4 per head so we are meeting out target pretty well.
     We have a box you can check on the meal page if you need a vegetarian 
entree (we must always provide vegetarian main entrees, and usually also 
provide a meat based entree since most of us are omnivores).  We also have a 
box you can check for a "late" plate if you know you will not make it home in 
time for dinner so we will save you a plate of food.
      We are not required to accommodate food restrictions but we usually do.  
In addition to our vegetarians we have one member with a gluten allergy and one 
with an allergy to the entire nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, 
eggplant), and one who can not tolerate red lentils.
We stock the pantry with gluten free flour and soy sauce and usually rice based 
pasta products and some gluten free mixes for cookies and cakes, etc. and try 
to keep tomatoes, potatoes, etc. "on the side" so they can be avoided as 
     Our meal program is very successful and popular and is one of the main 
"glues" that holds our community together.
                        Bonnie Fergusson
                        Swans Market Cohousing
                        Oakland, CA


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