Re: Subject: Common meals - mandatory participation?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2014 07:01:04 -0700 (PDT)
On Aug 2, 2014, at 8:38 PM, Pat Elliott <pdelliott43 [at]> wrote:

>  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.

Expectations of what will be and the reality can be very different for people. 
In some households one person was not interested in cohousing at all and only 
moved in to please their partner. But after move-in the roles reversed. The 
uninterested became inactive and the reluctant more active.

I also thought meals would be my favorite thing. I would finally eat more 
vegetables and a wider variety of vegetables. I would eat a yellow and a green 
and a salad at every meal. Vegetarian is often, not just in cohousing, not 
vegetarian but starchetarian. Even when I bring my own meals, I find it 
difficult to sit across from people eating fabulous dishes of grains and 
homemade bread and not eat it too. 

> 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.

And more time to cook. A commitment to cook here seems to mean that people cook 
during the day or the night before. People work "9-5" jobs don't get home until 
6-6:30. Some later. At each meal there will be 1-3 late plates sitting on the 

> 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 clean.

When I discovered buffet serving, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I've 
been to very elegant meals where a buffet was used. Even when the hostess 
served people, she served from the buffet. I also like knowing what I'm eating. 
Once at Thanksgiving the organizers insisted on passing dishes with 30 people. 
I took what I thought was mashed potatoes, a rare treat, that turned out to be 
what was probably vegan imitation and inedible. But I didn't know who brought 
it and felt very badly at not eating it. What if it was the person next to me? 

I like those little recipe cards in front of each dish that can be used at a 
buffet. Once I took some mixed vegetables that had sugar in them! I asked the 
cook why she put sugar in mixed vegetables. She said it wasn't sugar; it was 
some sort of jam. I think that needs a warning.

A buffet is much easier than passing bowls of stuff and having a crowded table 
with things sitting everywhere, like eating in a Chinese restaurant. Passing 
bowls and leaving them on the table went with big tables where there was ample 
room in the middle to put things. Tables 5 to 6 feet across. We have 36 inch 
tables and some want even narrower tables. The same person wants to pass 
dishes. How?

The Monday night group that signs up for rotations has worked out a compromise. 
The main dishes are on the counter and the (very good) salads are placed on the 
tables with bottles of salad dressing. Pitchers of water are also on the table. 
And places set with napkins, a glass, and table wear. They used to also put out 
plates but that turned out to be awkward, I think. I stopped setting tables as 
soon as I could since as a child that was my task. Be done with that!

All said and done, I do attend a fair amount of meals, just not every week. And 
would support a mandatory system. There are many jobs to be done in serving 
food. I remember one post many years ago about a community where the children 
come home from school to the CH where cookies and milk are waiting. They did 
their homework while the cooks were cooking. Tea was always ready by 4 or 5 for 
people who come to sit and talk before meals.

We have often talked of having coffee ready the CH, either at 7 for people to 
start the day by hanging out a few minutes or at 9 or 10 for those working at 
home to take a break. Perhaps at 4:00. It hasn't happened for lack of a person 
to do it or figuring out how to finance it. I often wish we had a system like 
Songia (right name?) that has a food budget and full pantry. We don't. It's a 
pay as you go which makes pots of coffee more difficult.

We also used to have people who would bring take out to pot lucks, too. They 
would stop on their way home to pick up things. That hasn't happened recently 
that I know of but it added to the variety and allowed them to participate 
without feeling like a mooch.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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