Union Food Lab and Makeshift Co-op
I went to a wonderfully progressive college. At one point I remember overhearing a spirited debate about a potential honey boycott because the bees might have been making the honey under duress. (Since I graduated, the bees have unionized and are now allowed to add at least one dependent onto the company health plan).
One of the great successes of the school was its system of food co-ops. Students committed to investing a certain number of hours per week doing cooking or cleaning work and got to eat freshly-prepared meals with very good ingredients. Most of the co-ops even had a designated bread baker and there was fresh bread available at nearly every meal.
I was recently asked to speak at Union Food Lab about eating more sustainably without spending a huge amount of money. Union Food Lab rents out its commercial kitchen space to food artisans looking to expand their businesses. They also work on multiple projects focusing on culinary arts, nutrition training, and food justice and poverty.
The plan was to chat for a while with the grad students at Union and then enjoy a simple dish of local peaches and cream. The students were interested in eating locally when they could, but had time constraints that made shopping and prep difficult. A student suggested that one person could wash a large amount of salad greens at one time and leave them in a Ziploc bag for others to use. Another who enjoyed making stock suggested making it in bulk so that soup-based meals could be made in a matter of minutes. Another simply suggested that a different person could handle the farmer’s market shopping itself each week.
Many of us do not have the resources to be a part of a co-op or supper club. Of course these are great ways to share the admittedly large amount of work required to produce high quality, creative home-cooked meals. But as I spoke to the students at Union, I wondered if there might be a middle ground that could be extraordinarily effective.
We all like it when a neighbor leaves a bag of fresh apples or tomatoes on our doorsteps. But as a home-cook, I would appreciate just as much some leftover greens, some chicken stock or even some minced onions. I know finding any of these things at home would make that night’s food preparation much easier. I certainly don’t recommend knocking on your neighbor’s doors and demanding that they make you demi-glace, but you might ask if they plan to make Thanksgiving dinner this year and if so, drop them some vegetable or chicken stock. It is unlikely to cost you much additional time or money if you are making it anyway, and someone might get to taste a Thanksgiving dish made with homemade stock for the first time . You never know. In fact, I’d love to hear from other home-cooks what they would most enjoy receiving were they to start some kind of makeshift co-op themselves.
At the end of our talk, our plan had been to toss some Ronnybrook Cream into a Kitchenaid and spoon the cream over some of the last peaches of the season. We found out though that no kitchen appliances were available, so we got to work. One woman said she hadn’t realized that whipped cream could be made from fresh cream but offered to start cutting up the fruit. Another said she wanted a workout and grabbed a whisk and started making the cream. A young man mentioned that if we tore the mint into small pieces before garnishing the plate, the fruit would look better. In about ten minutes we had shared good conversation, each other’s labor, and a spectacularly simple but delicious dessert. Oh, and speaking of labor, please disregard the beginning of this post as I was just informed that Scott Walker has stripped the bees of bargaining rights.