Monday, 2 November 2009

Starting a Dinner Co-op

by Amy of Progressive Pioneer

Why would you want to have a dinner co-op? Here's why we do it:
  • We love food, good food, but I don't always have hours to spend in the kitchen.
  • I want to try new recipes, but often find myself falling back on the same old standbys.
  • We like saving money.
  • And we wanted to become better friends with our neighbors.
  • We appreciate that cooking one meal for many uses less resources than cooking many meals for a few (in terms of energy use etc.)
So, we started a mostly-vegan dinner co-op with two other families and it has been life-altering! I'm over the moon with how much fun it is, how much time it has freed up for us and how many more coherent, tasty, hot meals we now sit down to as a family.
To begin we brainstormed about who else might be interested in our crazy idea of eating less meat and dairy. If your co-op isn't vegan, you'll probably have an easier time coming up with possible members. But you'll still want to invite people with similar tastes and eating habits.
Once we had three families all on board I wrote up a questionnaire about eating habits, preferred nights to cook, allergies or "off-limits" foods, contact information, co-op goals etc. I had everyone turn the sheets in to me and then made a master list to distribute at our kick-off meeting.
To get the co-op off on the right foot we had everyone over for a potluck dinner to discuss the nitty-gritty of cooking meals for each other. Everyone went home with a schedule of when they were cooking, contact info for other members, a list of foods not to include and a list of everyone's favorite cook books.

Because we're aiming to eat less animal products and also trying to not break the bank when cooking 16 servings of food (each family gets four servings) we've been looking to a lot of foreign cuisines, especially those from third world countries. If you haven't got a lot of resources, but you still have to feed your family, you get pretty creative with the spices and whatnot and older cultures have developed some fantastic and creative ways to reinvent grains and beans. We've been seeing a lot of curries, tamales, bean dishes and soups in our co-op. And we've been loving it!
An additional benefit is the friendships that have developed from seeing each other several times a week. We decided to have people pick up their meals at the chef's house, rather than having the meals dropped off. This way we all get to visit more often.
Our westernized society has lost much of the social aspect of living within a community; people are less likely to take it upon themselves to keep an eye out for their neighbors' kids, to join together in large projects like building a barn or bringing in the hay. We depend on each other less because of modern-day conveniences. But emotionally, we still need each other and the support of a community. We have done babysitting co-ops and dinner co-ops and have found the emotional and social benefits to be equally as important as the economic ones.
If you're interested in starting your own co-op, Dinner at Your Door is a great resource.
Happy cooking!