So it will come as no surprise to those who know me from LOTE and OpenVillage Festival 2017 that the primary area that draws my interest when it comes to creating the culture of OpenVillage spaces is how a group of people living and working together choose to structure the creation and consumption of food.
Like disposal of (human) waste (and in an Edgeryders OpenVillage – the provision of wifi Internet!) it is the one of the unavoidable necessities of social / group life. Like death and taxes it seems!
I was particularly drawn to the idea after the discussions between @matthias and @alberto following the early visit to the house in January, when thing were still getting going, I wanted to see how things had settled in to place following the arrival of the stable core members of the project teams.
I found a very strong team of people who obviously love food, both eating and preparing, and shared many wonderful meals with them all. Meeting for breakfast, often lunch and always for dinner together. It was a good opportunity to catch up with people after a full day of doing different things, but not always as structured as it could be.
Some thoughts / observations / suggestions follow:
There will always be those within a group who do not want to cook. There skills may lie elsewhere. This is acceptable, but needs to be easily available information, given without a value judgement. How the ‘value’ of some people always doing certain duties is balanced with the ‘value’ of those doing other duties is for people much better at economics and currency than me to understand.
There will often be those who may not want to eat at the same time as others. This needs to be considered better in a group situation. There is the danger of creating a ‘tyranny of dinner time’. Especially if there is no set time for food to be prepared. The requirement to 'down tools (digital or otherwise) and attend the communal meal often with limited warning, and varying times of day can cause frustrations. I would suggest a visible opt-out system, so that, say around lunchtime anyone who did not wish to be included in evening meals would write their name on a self-catering list in the kitchen. I have experience of this system working at a month-long arts residency last summer. Every person there chose to opt out of communal dinner at least once a week, but there was always a communal meal taking place each evening. All comms was done through face to face and through shared whiteboards added to throughout the day. We even managed it one day when we had all taken a 24hr vow of silence! So it’s doable under extreme circumstances.
A varied cuisine, prepared by diverse members of the community of the space is a great way to share and gain a better understanding of each other. I highly recommend it. However there is a danger involved when food prep times between cultures vary. During my 2 weeks at the house I noticed that when the Europeans were on food duty the prep and cooking time was often 60-90mins. More often than not one person working alone, with help from perhaps 1 other person. When MENA resident were on food duty prep and cooking times ran to 120-200 minutes and usually involved 3-4 participants in the kitchen. Food was always plentiful and excellent, but comparatively worth the 200% increase in human time investment? Probably not (in my opinion).
At least one meal a day must be at a structured regular time. I will always pick dinner as this meal as I think its best to discuss what has happened during the day and plans/ideas/hopes for the next day. But i also accept that i am not a morning person, so getting much out of me at a communal breakfast would be difficult. This also help everyone involved in the process plan better for the evening. If you know that food must be on the table at 7pm and takes 2 hrs to cook, you cant be going shopping for ingredients at 5:30pm.
These are all strategies for how to best structure the creation and eating of food in a system where many people are expected to contribute (mostly)equally to the cause. My gut reaction is that this system is probably not the best solution to a long term OV food culture across spaces. Here’s why i think that:
- It relies too heavily on passionate amateurs. How many times can i cook for a group of people before it’s “Alex’s damn pasta dish” again?
- The risk of competitive cooking (as discussed by @alberto and @matthias here).
- In a permanent OV structure it is vital that more time is spent thinking about food permaculture. If you are growing more of your own food to eat then you have to plan better and be more responsive to natural abundance. Otherwise there’s so much need for shopping. As individual time cost for catering drops with larger numbers so there is a corresponding increase in time cost for resupplying (especially if your location is remote).
- Isn’t the provision of food for groups in a live/work environment a valid project in its own right? Why must it be an addendum to another ‘valid’ project. Food permaculture extends outside of all spaces and is guaranteed to have immediate use and value in every locality. That’s why so many long-lived religious communities built themselves around the twin pillars of food and faith. Cheese, beer, wine, spirits, fruits, cured meats … there isn’t one of those products that didn’t support a monastery (and by an extension an entire local community) off the back of the food culture of the religious community within its walls.
My gut reaction is that in communities where the core membership of the OpenVillage space is going to exceed 8-10 permanent residents then one of those people has to be retained as a permanent head chef for the group. Perhaps with an allied project that looks at areas of food permaculture or food cultivation alongside, but where the kitchen, garden and local food community infrastructure are tied intimately together.
Anyway, much more to add, but for now, I thought I’d throw open to the platform for responses.