How to Get Your Neighbors to Cook Dinner For You Every Week
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In my family growing up, small children were given knives. There were five kids and two parents, and right around the time my youngest brother turned seven and my oldest was 13, my parents had an a-ha moment: What if each member of the household could take responsibility for supper one night a week, slyly delegating a fairly large amount of labor? The results were uneven. You might even get oatmeal.
But it turns out that getting tossed into the kitchen at such a young age was a good thing. Cooking food, after all, is one of the most basic human skills—some have argued that it's essentially what makes us human. My parents weren't so philosophical about things. I suspect it was purely communal efficiency that drove them.
My wife and I recently had our first child and were lavished with the customary pans of mac and cheese and containers of hearty soups and stews that materialize from friends and neighbors when you bring home a baby. One chef friend even made us his killer duck confit and smokey baked beans. We were carpet-bombed with calories in the very best way. All this food magically appearing on our doorstep got me thinking about something I started calling a "food pyramid scheme"—or what some folks call a supper co-op.
The idea is simple: you get together with two or three other households in your neighborhood and enter into a sort of pact of reciprocity. You cook a meal that is enough to feed you—and them. In turn, they do the same on some other weeknight. See how that works? You get three suppers but you've only cooked one. And as much as I enjoy lingering over a meal with friends, that's not what this is about—at least for me. It's about labor-saving, resource-sharing, and sampling home cooking from someone else's home.
recently arrived in the States after launching in Amsterdam—a sort of airbnb for your leftovers. It's active in New York and spreading to other cities quickly. I'm not interested in putting a price tag on my home cooking, though. I just want to share and share alike, like a culinary creative commons.
Right around the time I got this notion, the San Francisco farm fresh grocery delivery startup Good Eggs
launched and its founder Rob Spiro invited me to try it out. I'm lucky to have Other Avenues
, a great worker owned co-op, just a couple blocks from my house, so it couldn't be easier to get my hands on local organic produce. But Other Avenues is completely vegetarian, so they don't offer fancy grass-fed beef, artisanal pork belly, or Monterey Bay Aquarium-approved seafood options. That's where Good Eggs comes in: they arrange weekly neighborhood drop-offs of carnivore-friendly grocery orders—and they're right around the corner from me.
Good Eggs has four trucks delivering supplies from 120 Bay Area producers—everything from pancetta and a "forest-raised pork sampler" to sugar snaps and Japanese tatsoi greens. They've even got local trout, baby food, and pizza dough. Who's their customer? "Someone with a values system that aligns with good food," says Spiro. "Maybe they've read Michael Pollan or seen FOOD Inc. They get sustainable and local, but they're urban and really busy and they can't compromise on convenience." Brooklyn and Los Angeles: look for Good Eggs in your streets in the next few months.
I was tempted with bacon—locally processed and cured for five days in brown sugar and spices. I can't get that at my local hippie grocery. "We love farmer's markets, but most people run out of that food in a few days—at the most," Spiro told me. "We think of this as the mid-week re-stock." So for my first foray into the dinner co-op, I ordered a slab of that bacon along with some yellow Finn potatoes, green garlic, leeks, and a couple bunches of chard that would be the basis for a big pot of spring stew. Paired with a couple loaves of bread from an Oakland bakery and local butter, I had myself a pretty darned good meal.
I chatted up my friend and neighbor Mark about my little scheme. He's also a new dad instantly saw the value in having his neighbors cook for him on the regular. So one Saturday we had a quick food swap right there on the sidewalk in front of my house. He made off with my bacon-thickened spring stew with bread and butter, and I got his famous vegan jumbalaya. (Stop cringing, Cajuns—it's actually really tasty.) I still had enough of my stew to feed another couple of mouths, so I packed that up and brought it down to another neighbor—another new dad. "No strings attached," I told him. "But if you're interested, I've got this little thing going I call a food pyramid scheme."
My wife is also working the new mom angle. I've got her putting the word out at 'rhyme time' at the local library—a weekly Wednesday gathering that draws the stroller set in droves. Mark and I swapped once again since that stew—he got my spicy yellow daal and I got his lasagna—but then he and his family up and moved to the East Bay, far out of range.
I lost the first true believer in my scheme, but I'm still hopeful. After all, Michael Pollan's fresh best-seller will no doubt make home cooking a rallying cry, and the sharing economy is in boom times. Someday soon I just might find myself cooking only one night a week, just like my parents.