Re: Subject: Common meals - mandatory participation?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 2 Aug 2014 08:27:00 -0700 (PDT)
On Aug 1, 2014, at 1:23 PM, Susan Coberly <susandgeorge [at]> wrote:

> In response to Wolf Creek's post on Coho list serve re their consternation
> on finding people don't want to participate in common meals, We here at La 
> Querencia/ aka Fresno Cohousing [beginning move in Sept 2008] have had an 
> increasingly rocky road with our common meals program. Sorry in advance for 
> the opus...

Thank you for the wonderful opus. It is the "opus" quality necessary to explain 
the whole issue that I think reveals the problem of common house meals. I think 
the conflict between desire and implementation is the result of our desire for 
both  family-style Leave It to Beaver meals and for cultural diversity.

We can't have it all -- homogenous diversity is an oxymoron. "Family" is a bad 
model for a governing  a diverse community of people who did not grow up 
together. Families are autocratic organizations. However benevolent the 
patriarch or matriarch is, they establish expectations and requirements from 
birth and keep things in line until death. Villages and churches, etc., do the 
same thing.

Diversity brings conflicting expectations: Indoor/outdoor voices. Seasoning 
preferences. Vegan, vegetarian. Fish but not beef. Beef but no pork. Buffet vs 
at the table bowl passing ("family style"). Early or late. Casual or formal 
with set tables and flowers and scheduled arrival.

There is no longer a common meal time. Nor a commonly accepted healthy diet. 
Nor a diet that everyone can or will eat. Nor a common desire for what is easy 
to cook for large crowds. And certainly not common expectations of children.

We all have our own perfectly fine personalized lives. My choice of food and 
work and entertainment and household composition isn't a "style" that I change 
with the season. It's something I have crafted carefully through 72 years of 
study and experimentation. To change that because common meals are the center 
of community is not something I would be interested in. When I've tried common 
meals on a regular basis (not just in cohousing) I've discovered that I'm not 
common. I want food to be cooked the way I like it. I eat with others in order 
to have conversations without yelling. 

Personally, while I think common meals are a wonderful idea and certainly 
enjoyable and a good way to meet people, the complexities are unpleasant. As a 
person who loves living alone (with lots of people outside the door), quiet 
meals on my own schedule with my own menu are divine. I find occasional festive 
meals lots of fun--cook outs, the squash fest challenge to use up the garden 
harvest, Pesto Festo to use up the basil over abundance at the end of the 
season, Dinner at Eight for adults, Pi Day, etc.

And living alone, meals are simple. Wash one plate, one fork, one glass. 
Usually one pan. Or no pan at all. Or just throw out the paper towel that held 
a piece of left over chicken. To exchange that for trying to move around 4-5 
people in the kitchen, clanging plates and scraping chairs while the floor is 
being swept, topped off with a hugely noisy steaming sanitizer, and getting 
home after 8:00 is not inviting.

And then there is the issue of diets. I literally should not eat the common 
meals except for salad. And salad only if I bring my own dressing. The base of 
almost all the CH meals is sugar -- carbohydrates. I love beans and rice but 
it's a death sentence to me with an inherited inability to tolerate 
carbohydrates and to most older people, who become less and less able to 
tolerate carbohydrates. And all the salad dressings in the CH have sugar as the 
first ingredient. 

I might eat carbs once or twice a week, but only when they are worth dying for. 
I'm not ready to die for sugar in salad dressing. In half a really good 
brownie, maybe. In a bowl of barley soup as the main meal? No.  4 oz of 
flavored yogurt often has 3-4 teaspoons of sugar. 

It would be interesting to be able to compare the diversity of a community with 
the success of meal programs.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

For those who don't understand the carb-lowfat problem, the following link goes 
to an article in Nutrition on this subject:

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.