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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cooking Co-ops

I've been resistant to post about Lunch Club on this blog, which is odd, considering Lunch Club is the primary outlet where food obsession manifests. Lunch Club is genius; I cook lunch for 4 friends on Sunday nights, and deliver it to their doorstep for Monday morning. Then, each friend makes lunch on their assigned evening and delivers it for the next days lunch. It's cheap, healthy, and perhaps most importantly, a laid-back, no-pressure approach to a cooking co-op.

I am afraid that making too much noise about Lunch Club will disturb its magical, harmonic simplicity. It's worked for over a year, I think mostly because we've been very relaxed about it. It is so tempting to turn it into more than what it is. I love food, and I spend a lot of time working toward a society that is community-based and mutually supportive. So of course, the logical conclusion is that Lunch Club is the revolution and I should probably write a book about it and start a non-profit that will replicate the model large-scale in at least 9 major metropolitan areas. Right?

Well, no, and besides, someone already beat me to the punch.

This book on dinner cooperatives has sparked some chatter on The Ethicurean and Bitten at the NYT.

The book is about starting a dinner co-op that sounds a lot like Lunch Club. A dinner co-op would be infinitely more complicated than lunch, particularly if you are feeding a family. Maybe you really would need to buy 88 pyrex pans in order to make it work. But the checklists, spreadsheets and trust-building exercises seem like its over-thinking it.

An ideal co-op is flexible and forgiving [say, if you decide to invent a recipe involving aduki beans and two different kinds of beer, or if your pizza dough turns out so tough that you have to maul it with your molars to eat it.] It's cool, baby. There is always lunch cart cheese sandwiches for a buck fifty. No big whoop.

Mark Bittman is pretty cynical about the feasibility of cooking co-ops. Like Bittman, I too have been subject to the failed collective house cooking arrangements and gluten-free, vegan potlucks with 6 different kinds of spelt muffins [living in West Philly is a little like living in Berkley in the 70's]. But Lunch Club has made me into a believer, with the caveat that cooking co-ops should be low-key and fun, and should lessen the stress in your life, not increase it.

1 comment:

Andy Remeis said...

Yes, as your lunch club is low-key, low-stress, and fun, so is a dinner co-op. The key is to have open communication and make it fit your life-style. If you want to eat healthy, gourmet meals, that should be the groundwork. If you want to eat low-sodium, gluten-free meals, then set that goal with your friends. Once you find your chefs and are all on the same page, it is very magical. In our book, “Dinner At Your Door”, we do provide checklists, lines of communications and even a “Salad Bingo” spreadsheet (as John from Ethicurean has cleverly dubbed it). We provide all of this and more because if you do a little extra work up front, it will pay off in the end and truly be a wonderful dinner experience. With our book in hand, you have all the right ingredients for a successful dinner co-op and are on your way to many relaxing evenings of hanging out with your family, helping with homework or just going on a walk or bike ride while you wait for your next fresh, home-cooked meal to appear.

Andy Remeis
Co-Author, “Dinner At Your Door: Tips and Recipes for Starting a Neighborhood Cooking Co-Op”