How can three innocent words sound so ominous in combination? "Neighborhood cooking co-ops."
What's prompted this discussion is a new book called Dinner At Your Door: Tips and Recipes for Starting a Neighborhood Cooking Co-op, certainly a laudable idea for earnest souls who wish to save money, eat well, and bond with a community. The book, according to "the Ethicurean" (via Bittman at Bitten) is designed to
suggest a solution that applies not just to people interested in sustainable, local cooking, but also to mainstream eaters and inexperienced cooks - basically, anyone with busy lives who wants to eat more delicious, homemade meals. Their recommendation is to find like-minded households and start a dinner co-op, embracing core ideas of community.
Well, put like that, it's great. The reality sounds...messy. Beyond vaguely frightening notions of commune-style dumpster-diving (which I'm very sure has nothing to do with the actual book), such concepts strike fear into the heart of the kitchen control freak. To such, ahem, people, there is nothing more frightening than being at the whims of another's tastes and palate. Many of us have poorly-suppressed collegiate memories of meals involving homemade tofu (note: don't try this without a recipe) and gouging our palms in an effort to keep from reaching out and saving a sauce from misplaced creativity or incomplete knowledge. Ruth Reichl's accounts of cooking in a Berkeley coop, at the mercy of self-righteous food faddists, are all too familiar. I speak as someone who can't bear to let my very willing boyfriend fix dinner, as his cooking bears the unmistakable stamp of a youth of impoverished vegetarianism (a dangerous, if common, combo.)
This said, we are obviously the ones who need exactly this sort of thing: relinquishing control, learning to share, growing and changing with the aid of freer spirits...we've all watched A Good Year, or something like it, on illegal download. Don't get me wrong: I love my semi-monthly dining club and eating at friends' homes. But this is quite a different matter from entrusting one's everyday nourishment to others. And to me, my bowl of oatmeal, my cup of soup, my dinner are practically sacramental: one area over which I can exercise my own tastes and whims. To such as I, who fall into despair when hungry or are downcast at a bad meal's wasted opportunities for pleasure and nourishment, the benefits of such a worthy enterprise are obviously not worth the costs in neurosis. For the rest of you, it actually sounds lovely: I'll be over here, hoarding a pumpernickel roll.