Re: Help with meals problem
From: R.N. Johnson (
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2012 11:27:35 -0700 (PDT)
I wouldn't consider a decision made by the community as a whole to be a "top 
down" decision, or a decision to require meals to be necessarily a "fixed, 
highly structured" process. Some communities have set meal days, others require 
a certain level of participation, and allow participants to pick when they will 
cook. some have an elaborate pre planning process, with pre-set menus and 
required RSVP, others don't.  Some require that every household or individual 
cook, some require that you participate in some fashion (cook, prep 
cook shopper, cleaner), but don't require a particular role.  Different 
communities make different choices depending on their values and what works for 
    Setting an expectation for meals participation is an unsurprising part of a 
successful meals program. If you were a track coach, and did not set an 
expectation for regular practice from your team, your results are almost 
certainly going to be less consistent.  Yes, there are those people who are 
almost entirely self-motivated, but they are few and far between.   I am 
certainly not knocking spontaneity and "self-organizing", but  it involves a 
lot more activation energy, and is much more likely to falter if key people get 
busy.   The maintenance energy needed to keep a voluntary meals program going 
is much higher than that for an ongoing program with clear expectations. 
    Meals are one of the key ways that we have to build social cohesion.  Work 
participation is another.  It is no accident that developer led communities 
that have not had the bonding experience of working together intensely either 
to develop the community or to complete community projects are less 
cohesive. And while there are certainly a few dedicated communitarians out 
there who might prefer not to do meals, in general, people who don't want to 
commit to a meals program are going to be more individualistic, and less 
interested in community participation as a whole. 

         "I think it would be very interested to know more about the survey and 
how "satisfaction" was explored... 
    A secondary dimension is also interesting, to understand the initial 
conditions for the responding communities.      Specifically the distribution 
of type 1 and 2 between, for example, communities that were founded primarily 
by     developers vs. relatively cohesive groups of people.   "
 If  you look at the survey data, it is organized by how many meals per week a 
community eats together. 
The survey showed higher levels of satisfaction for the meals program, higher 
work participation, and higher satisfaction in the community as a whole for 
groups that ate together more often.  I think you will find that it is harder 
to maintain a high level of participation withoot some structure, and high 
expectations of participation.  
From my own experience, I can tell you that newbies to cooking meals for a 
group often had a lot of anxiety, and would have chosen not to participate if 
that had been an option.  But a year or two into the program, you would have 
been hard put to tell the "newbies" from the experienced group cooks, one 
person in her 50s discovered for the first time that she enjoyed cooking, and 
our twice weekly meals practically run themselves.  As a matter of fact, our 
meal coordinator is someone who hates meetings, was not initially interested in 
cooking meals for the group, and is driven nuts by group process. His system is 
simple, relatively hassle free, involves very little pre-planning, and works 
very well.   
Randa Johnson
New Brighton Cohousing, Aptos, CA

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