Re: Subject: Common meals - mandatory participation?
From: Pat Elliott (
Date: Sat, 2 Aug 2014 17:38:36 -0700 (PDT)
I thank you for all of your responses (and encourage more), especially from 
those who support a strong expectation of common meal participation but also 
from those who support wholly voluntary. Though I get the sense that if it's 
too voluntary, low participation results in something that isn't really a 
community common meals program. 

Perhaps I was a bit strident in saying "mandatory", although our pre-move-in 
agreement says "each individual will serve on a cook team one time per month". 
It doesn't say everyone has to eat at a common meal nor do I as Common Meal 
Coordinator try to make anyone attend as a diner, though I may encourage those 
who seldom show up to join us once in awhile. We don't have a "punishment" for 
not participating on a cook team or, obviously, for not eating common meals. I 
am able to generally get nearly full compliance as to cook teams with a couple 
of email reminders to sign up to cook, subject to the next paragraph. 

As a practical matter, I have informally applied quite a few exceptions, most 
temporary, to the cook team participation requirement. A few of our members 
have other homes and aren't here a lot. We have had heart attacks, hip and knee 
replacements, shoulder surgery and all sorts of other issues. I never ask 
people to do what is unreasonable to expect from them, despite the written 
agreement which didn't expressly contemplate such things or any exemptions. 

Jennifer, thanks for your message and eloquent support of universal 
participation. One of those who now finds participating painful was on the 
committee that drafted our community agreement about common meals before 
move-in and was then fully on board. She participates fully in other aspects of 
the community, such as the maintenance team. Another of the painful ones 
doesn't seem to understand she is obligated to participate in anything despite 
a long session with Katie on that topic before she moved in. And so it goes.

In our agreement, we aimed for five common meals a week. We generally achieve 
three to four a week, including three Saturday potlucks a month. Perhaps 
because we are a senior community and nearly all retired, I think we may look 
forward to and enjoy common meals more than perhaps those in intergenerational 
communities do. No kid noise or running around and all that goes with kids in 
the dining room. We had thought we would serve family style, but instead do 
buffet style. No kids to control while filling plates, etc. Getting food at the 
serving tables becomes part of the socializing, with fewer serving dishes to 

Cook teams (which do everything from planning to cleaning, in theory) are two 
to four. No expectation that couples will cook together; in fact, we have a 
majority of singles anyway. Others nearly always help with the cleanup, 
especially if one or more of the cook team has physical limitations. I have 
cleaned after a common meal many more times than I have been on a cook team.

We have an on-line system we borrowed from Nevada City Cohousing that 
effectively handles cook team signups, diner signups and all the money issues 
(max $5 per meal with cook team "gifting" any overage). Weekday meals are at 6 
pm; weekend are cook's choice. We do an exchange of funds and an adjustment on 
the MealTrak system when anyone gets more than $100 out of balance one way or 
the other.

Sharon is very eloquent about the things that cause her and others to eschew 
taking part in common meals, including food issues and personal preferences of 
various sorts. I respect that. Our cook teams try to accommodate known food 
issues, though not always successfully. However, I feel our community would be 
much poorer and less connected if we had fewer common meals and a larger 
portion of the community who didn't participate at all. Which leads to my 
unhappiness about potentially going to a completely voluntary system.



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