Re: Help with Meals Problem
From: Douglas G. Larson (
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2012 08:29:08 -0700 (PDT)
>>Help!  My cohousing community has 26 households, and about 50 adults.   We
have a policy expecting everyone to cook once per month, in groups of two or
more, and we have done pretty well for many 
>>years. In the last couple of years, thought, I have noticed a decline in
the number of people cooking, and currently we have very few meals.   We
have a Meals Committee that has done surveys, 
>>tried out different things (potlucks, etc.), but the number of meals
continues to decline.   Our participation in general is not as strong as it
could be.   Has anyone dealt with a meals issue as 
>>above, and what have they done about it?

>>I have a radical idea, which is to add $50 per month per adult to the
monthly dues, and people would get money back at the end of the year based
on any activity they have done that contributes to 
>>our community.   People would have to keep rough track of what they do,
and time spent.   I think it might encourage participation, and reward those
who are working.   Also, might result in 
>>leftover funds, which we could use to reduce our monthly dues.   Any

I would need to know some important facts before I could attempt to address
the problem. 

 1.  How many meals per week were you doing when your food program was going
 2.  How does each meal get planned and who plans it?
 3.  How does the food for each meal get purchased?
 4.  How does any given cook know how many people to cook for?
 5.  How is the cost of each meal paid?
 6.  How is clean-up organized for each meal?

Our food program works like this

 A)  We serve 5 meals per week, dinner Mon-Thur and breakfast on Saturday.
 B)  Cost is assessed each month for the entire month. Every member pays for
all meals whether they attend or not. Monthly cost is $120 for each adult
and $5 per year of age for each child. That's on 
     average 20 meals per month or about 260 meals per year. 
 C)  Each paying member (all adults and the older kids) is expected to sign
up for 1 meal work job per week. There are 2 cook jobs and 2 clean-up jobs.
 D)  The lead cook for each meal plans the meal, i.e. chooses the menu and
submits a list of ingredients needed to our food committee a week prior to
their chosen meal.
 E)  Each week our team of food buyers (2 inventory people, 3 buyers and ,
garden manager, about 6 people total) take the list of ingredients submitted
and do inventory of the pantry, check the garden for available fresh
produce, and then do the buying for all the planned meals each week. 
 F)  When the day of a given meal arrives, the ingredients for that meal are
already in the pantry (or are in the garden to be harvested). 
 G)  Since the approximate number of people attending a meal is known in
advance the cooks prepare for that many. If guests are coming for a given
meal, that is written on the weekly meal-work sheet. 
 H)  There is a sign-up sheet in the kitchen where food program members can
put their name if they are going to be absent from a meal. A plate is then
saved, covered with plastic wrap and their name on it and put in the common
house refrigerator. They can come get it in the evening when they return. 
 I)  Food waste is collected and goes into our composting system, which 2 of
our garden people manage. 

Some of my thoughts - I don't know how your system operates but I know that
for many communities the community meals are more ad-hoc. That is, they
happen when someone volunteers to plan and prepare a meal. That person often
does all the food purchasing and only the people who eat actually pay for
their meal. So with this ad-hoc type of system (many variations but
essentially as I described here) the food program is treated as more of a
hobby than as a key part of daily life. So for many people when a crunch
happens (money and/or time) the hobby is often the first thing that gets put
off or cancelled. Everyone has to eat and if the food program is instead
designed to be more a part of your daily lives, then its less likely to
suffer when crunch time happens for any given individual(s). With our system
we do sometimes cancel planned meals but it happens only about 2 or 3 meals
per year. Most of our meals (20 per month, 260 per year) happen as
Of course, the key to our style of system is that there are many people
doing different jobs (taking inventory, purchasing food, cooking, cleaning,
etc.) Since we buy in bulk, we purchase some of our food from local
wholesalers. A company called Cash and Carry is a local wholesaler where
small grocery stores (not the big chain stores) purchase their inventory. We
take advantage of that. Also another wholesaler we use delivers to us once
per month. 

Douglas Larson,
Songaia Cohousing,
Bothell, Washington

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