Updated: Nov 11, 2019
As a child, I was bussed in from the farm to attend elementary school in Ste. Agathe. At lunchtime, most kids stayed in the classroom and ate their lunches there, while a few "lucky" kids got to walk home at noon to eat lunch. I remember being envious of their freedom, because they could leave school, walk alone on the streets of town, and come back for lunch recess or else just in time for the next class.
Now, fast forward 35 years… I was now living in St. Boniface and teaching at the neighbourhood school, located only half a block from my home where I lived alone. Other colleagues who lived in the neighbourhood, mostly married with children, would walk, cycle, or even drive home most lunch hours in order to eat their lunch alone and enjoy some quiet time. Me? The only time I’d go home during the school day was if I’d forgotten something. I so enjoyed eating lunch with others in the staffroom, connecting through our discussions about life, beliefs, cultural traditions, and of course, each others’ lunches, sampling, sharing recipes, and picking up new ideas to try out in the kitchen.
At one point, I was going through an experimental phase, trying out new vegetarian recipes almost every week. One of my colleagues, Fatiha, would often take a small bite of something I’d made, and almost always say the same thing: "It’s good, but it would be better with a bit of cumin." I became quite resentful towards her because I took this to mean that my cooking not very good, just okay. Couldn’t she just appreciate my adventuous cooking attempts? It’s funny, though… months later, my friend Chantal showed me how she didn't use salad dressings. Instead, she dress a salad with olive oil, a bit vinegar or soy sauce, and a few spices, including cumin. And I discovered cumin—to this day, it's still my favourite spice! Fatiha was right: cumin does make most dishes taste better.
One of the recipes I experimented with was Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread. It was a simple recipe, with the only challenges being finding the right pot and figuring out the timing. But once I got this right, I was able to make an incredible boule of bread—one which two colleagues from France described as European peasant bread. One of them eyed me with disbelief when I told her that I’d made it myself. (You’ll have to take my word for it—unless of course you join our community, and then maybe I’ll bake some bread for you one day…)
I’m sorry, I digress. Back to the topic at hand. One of my colleagues, who almost never ate at school, once asked me why I didn’t go home for lunch. The possibility had never even entered my mind. Gone was that envy that I’d felt in my childhood, that desire to leave school and go home…. The reason for this was obvious. On most days, I’d usually eat both breakfast and dinner alone in a quiet, too large, empty house. Having lunch with my colleagues was one of the joys of my day. I simply enjoyed their company. At the time, I wouldn’t have described this as community, but that's precisely what I was enjoying.
I’ve heard so many people say that they hate preparing lunches. I learned a long time ago to prepare my lunch the night before, to avoid the last minute rush in the morning, and so that I could eat a healthy meal in the staffroom in the company of my colleagues and friends. Making a lunch is a small price to pay so that I might enjoy eating in community.
I’m no longer a teacher, but am still working in relative proximity to my home. A few of my colleagues eat alone in their offices in order to use their lunchtime to run errands. Me? I still make a lunch every evening, and enjoy eating it in the company of others.
So when Frances told me about her dream for Prairie Rivers Cohousing, the community meals were one of the first hooks for me. The fact that I wouldn’t have to cook a supper every evening is a definite bonus, but the possibility of breaking bread with neighbours, now that’s what I’m after. And when it’ll be my turn to cook, you can be reasonably sure that whatever I make will be flavoured with a touch of cumin—and, if you’re lucky, it may even be accompanied by a boule of European peasant bread.
Do you have any good memories associated with community meals? If so, please share them below.
This picture was taken during my first cohousing common meal experience, in Madison, WI.