by Valerie Renwick, Originally published by the Fellowship for Intentional Community in Communities Magazine
Ah yes, the community meal table. Communal dining can be a glorious bonding experience, as members recreate the feeling of an earlier era when the tribe gathered at the end of the day to share the fruits of their bounty. On the other hand, it can also bring out certain aspects of the cook’s personality, as sure as Myers-Briggs. Here is a sampling of the “Cook du Jour”.
“Le Chef” — Before joining community, this member ran their own French restaurant. They know that presentation makes the meal, and people ooh and aah over their concoctions. Their cooking is generally well-appreciated, with the exception of people who like their green beans other than dripping with butter.
“The Ethnic Specialist” — Thai, Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian-it’s a geographical whirlwind as each week we’re whisked off to another exotic food locale. The underlying theme: more spice is twice as nice. Bland is banned, so it’s peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich night for those with sensitive palates.
“Food as Art” — This member doesn’t see any reason why their creative, whimsical side needs to be left at the kitchen door. Tofu sculpted to resemble a recent guest or a Thanksgiving turkey, a rainbow salad including beets, carrots, peppers, kale, blueberries and grapes, or a cake in the shape of a body part-their creativity knows no bounds on the serving table. (Results may vary, depending on actual cooking skill)
“Agit-Prop Cuisine” — When politics and food collide (think Chairman Mao with a measuring cup). All-vegan-all-the-time, no refined anything, no profit-mongering corporate ingredients to be found in any dish. The heart and mind can enjoy this meal, but the stomach may stage it’s own protest….
“Locavoracious” — A lighter-hearted version of the above, this cook sources their food from within 100 miles, or better yet, 100 yards of the communal kitchen. No flora or fauna are exempt, and dinner may include what you previously thought were weeds growing beside the porch or the groundhog that was last seen invading the garden.
“The Mess Hall” — Prior military, cafeteria or summer camp experience informs this cook’s style. Mass-produced and designed to appeal to the masses, these meals are heavy on the mac-and-cheese, gravy-laden entrees, and all things carbohydrate.
Regardless of style, as we sit down to a meal together in accordance with our own community traditions–be that thanking the cook, saying a prayer, or simply digging in–we can appreciate that the simple act of sharing food is an important part of the “community glue” that holds us all together. Bon Appetit!
Valerie Renwick has eaten more than 13,000 communal meals over the course of her membership at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia.