Posted on Wed, September 07, 2011 by Slow Food USA
5 Comments | Categories: Cooking,
A New York January isn’t the best time to start a cooking experiment whose ground rules include sourcing local ingredients. But after months of fantasizing about relief from dinner leftovers and overpriced takeout for lunch, eight Slow Food staffers risked their taste buds and reached their kale-and-winter squash recipe limit to begin a lunch cooperative. Inspired to action by a Civil Eats article chronicling another lunch co-op adventure (written by our very own Jerusha Klemperer—Slow Food’s Associate Director of Campaigns and Projects) we met and discussed the structure. On an eight –day rotation, a different person would cook for all other co-op members once every eight days. With multiple palates, tastes, and dislikes, we needed to set out some ground rules: 1.) As many whole, local and organic ingredients as possible. 2.) Each per person cost had to be less than $5. The whole meal could not cost more than $40 3.) Vegeterian meals only or at least one vegetarian serving for our meat-free member. 4.) Limit spicy dishes and anything with tuna or eggplant. 5.) Be bold and creative.
We also needed to make sure that the ball never got dropped. Using a Google doc calendar (see picture) to schedule the rotation has allowed us to edit whenever we want. It’s also color coded—meaning every eight-day cycle is a different color—immediately making clear which days in each cycle still need to be taken. The day’s chef sends an email with the menu so she can get feedback and also so everyone else gets excited!
There have definitely been some bumps in our journey, but they have made us better cooks and eaters. Only once did a scheduling snafu lead us to the local deli. Cleaning responsibilities weren’t self-evident and needed to be articulated. (Now everyone cleans their own dishes and utensils. The cook cleans any reusable containers.) We get into lazy slumps where boldness and creativity are lacking. We also amended our rules to add an official endorsement of ricotta, a request to forgo feta, and a further cost reduction to $4 per person, per meal. Our practice evolves and so do we. Some of us challenge ourselves even further to limit the meals we cook to recipes in our cookbook collection or to cook from a certain region of Central America. But lunch co-op itself is a challenge worth working through. It saves us money, it forces us to slow down, and it has even led to weight loss!
Nine months, two participant shuffles, six steady members and three check-in meetings later, we are happy to report that our experiment has now become the envious daily practice of our co-workers. The main success is that lunch co-op is still going strong and delicious! Being part of the group pulls us out of our jobs for just a little time every day to share a meal with co-workers. Even if we can’t actually eat together, we talk to each other to find out what the meal is, thank the person who made it and comment on its deliciousness. We’ve all certainly picked up some new ideas along the way and eaten meals every five days out of six that we normally would not have.
We would all recommend giving a lunch co-op a shot to anyone who is able and willing. Try it! And then let us know about it.