March 2023

Considering the Common Meal:

Last newsletter, we asked about common meals and we were excited about how many of you reached out to tell us about your meals! Some communities prefer potlucks while others have teams who cook a whole meal for their communities. While most communities doing common meals do one or two per week, we did hear from two communities who have 3-4 non-potluck common meals every week. COVID has affected nearly everyone’s common meals programs, often leading to far fewer meals per month than before the pandemic.

Most communities have a committee or team to oversee the common kitchen more broadly, but there appear to be two main ‘models’ of getting non-potluck common meals on the table. The first model features dedicated cook teams of 3-4 people who always work together, letting the community know when their team will be able to serve a meal. The other model involves choosing dates of common meals and then asking people to volunteer to help on those dates, leading to different people working together on each meal.

Little Mountain Cohousing (LMC) in Vancouver, B.C. has 3 non-potluck common meals per week (dinners on Mondays and Wednesdays; some kind of weekend meal where the details are up to the cook). They have a Common Meals Team that deals with broad oversight of the meals and the kitchen. For each meal, they ask for six volunteers: one Lead Cook, two Assistant Cooks, and three Cleaners. The Lead Cook usually sets the menu and does the shopping, although they may ask an assistant cook to help with shopping or take point on a side dish, dessert, or specific dietary restriction option. In general, LMC tries to ensure that each meal has a vegetarian and gluten-free option, with other food restrictions handled on a more ad hoc basis.

LMC uses a website designed for cohousing, Gather, for their common meal signups and planning (there are other options for this type of website, such as Mosaic). Someone from the Common Meals Team posts all meals for the month on Gather. Once the meals are posted, people sign up to help! Some residents wait to sign up for a shift until they know what’s being made or who the Lead Cook will be, others just sign up based on their own availability. For LMC, they like that they end up cooking or cleaning with a variety of their neighbors, getting the chance to work with lots of people.

LMC’s common meals are well attended. They have 50 residents and most common meals average 35-40 attendees. They try to stick to a budget of $5/person/meal (although small children eat free). The community is informed about any leftovers (either portions or perishable ingredients). Anyone who takes leftovers home is asked to make a small donation to the overall community meals fund. If there is a sizable amount of leftovers of something that freezes well (such as soups or stews), those leftovers may get frozen for use in a future meal. About once every 4-6 weeks, someone plans a ‘Taste of LMC’ Common Meal which features leftovers from the freezer with some additional components. This meal usually comes in well under budget and, along with the money from leftovers, helps offset any small overages from other meals.

We heard from a lot of communities who have struggled with their common meals since the onset of the COVID pandemic. Some are new communities that never got in the habit of common meals when COVID shut down gathering. Others are older communities who ‘paused’ their common meal programs but who are now having trouble restarting in a way that everyone can agree on.

One community that is nearing completion, Our Urban Village, in Vancouver, B.C., sent us a list of questions for more experienced common mealers. They asked if communities could share some of their recipes for meals that have worked well for common meals and, in particular, scale well to serve many people.

So, send us your favorite recipes for common meals! CCN can share some in the newsletter and start to compile a ‘Best of Canada’s Cohousing Common Meals’ recipe collection to share!

For more information and updates from our community members, please see the full newsletter ›

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