By Heather Grubbs and Nahla Bendefaa ’16
Everyone loves a home-cooked meal.
But when you’re away at college, enjoying grandma’s homemade lasagna is often a sacrifice one must make.
Or is it?
One student-organized group is aiming to change that. The Food Co-op began two years ago as part of Class of 2014 graduate Taylor Hinton’s senior comp titled “Activism through Food: Creating a Housing and Dining Cooperative at Allegheny College.” Hinton says she initially intended for the co-op to “address inequalities in access to cooking spaces, account for a range of dietary needs and food cultures, share cooking knowledge, and provide students with local, cheap, home-cooked food.”
Hinton’s comp then expanded upon her vision by seeking to:
• Create a sustainable organizing structure for the dining cooperative.
• Expand the population that the group was serving as a cooperative.
• Acquire a house that would both support the dining cooperative and provide a second space in which students can live and cook together.
Current students Cara Brosius ’16, Stephanie Latour ’16, and Hawk Weisman ’16, who live in what is now known as the Co-op House on North Main Street, are carrying on Hinton’s vision by hosting Friday night homemade dinners on campus. The dinners seek to accomplish Hinton’s goals, as well as allow students to share family recipes and cultures and enjoy each other’s company.
“Whether you want to share an ethnic meal or your family’s apple pie, this is a welcome space to do that,” says Weisman, who is double-majoring in computer science and environmental studies. “Cooking and eating meals together was something I always did with my family, so this is a way to continue that.”
According to Weisman and Brosius, students sign up to participate in each week’s dinner. Two students are then assigned to the “head chef” role – meaning they are responsible for planning the meal – and two other students are assigned as sous chefs to assist with preparation.
For those students who prefer to stay out of the kitchen, they still can participate by serving as grocery shoppers, by volunteering to clean up, or by simply enjoying the food.
“Everyone here is very friendly, and there is definitely a sense of community since everyone helps out either cooking or cleaning,” says Catherine Schnur ’17. “Also, the food is always delicious!”
“Co-op is a great way to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet. It’s also a very welcoming environment,” adds Kara Van Balen ’17. “My first time here I felt like everyone was immediately my friend.”
The dinners are prepared and consumed in Carr Hall, with about 20 to 30 students attending. The group asks for a suggested donation of $2 to $3 to help cover shopping costs, or students can pay $20 up front for the entire semester.
“We represent a wide variety of majors and backgrounds on campus, which leads to a diverse menu,” Weisman says.
“We’ve had everything from lasagna to soup to Mexican food, and we really try to purchase fresh ingredients when possible, especially from the on-campus garden, the Carrden,” adds Brosius, an economics major and astronomy and mathematics minor. “We’ve also had other groups on campus like Edible Allegheny and the Green Living House volunteer to cook during certain weeks. We’d like to expand this concept by having other groups on campus participate, too.”
Just like Hinton’s original vision, the group stresses that its “come one, come all” approach applies to those with dietary restrictions, as well.
“We have a number of students who are vegetarians or vegans or those who eat gluten-free or have allergies, so we always make sure there are a lot of options,” Brosius says. “Personally, I like co-op because I have problems digesting certain foods, so I like knowing how each meal is prepared. Knowing that it’s homemade is comforting to me. Co-op is kind of like our home away from home.”