Oberlin Blogs


March 21, 2014

Peter D'Auria ’14

After a long day of intellectual pursuits you are tired and hungry. You go to Stevenson Dining Hall but you find you are overcome with a sudden boredom, a lack of desire. You wander the serving area like a phantom. Do you want cocoa puffs? A panini? Pizza? Fruit? At Classic Comforts, the food looks classic, and comforting. At Global Exhibition the food looks worldly and exhibitionist. At Wildfire Grill, the food looks grilled. Each has its own charm, but somehow you have no appetite for any of it. The salad bar, too, with its glistening dressings, crisp veggies, does not tempt you. Could it be that Stevie no longer satisfies you? Do you have l'ennui de Stevie, the infamous "Ennuivie"? To your surprise, you find yourself craving, somehow, lentils.


Welcome to OSCA. If you are in OSCA, or a current Oberlin student, you are probably aware of its existence, but possibly you are not. That's fine. If you are a prospective student, affectionately known by the student body as "prospies," you may not know about OSCA, or perhaps be aware of only some of its many facets. Yes, OSCA is like a glistening gem, polished to perfection by a master gem-polisher. You may think you understand it, but the longer you spend looking into its translucent depths, the more you realize that you are just totally wrong about its true nature. It is a beautiful thing.

OSCA natch stands for Oberlin Student Co-operative Association. This is affectionately referred to as the "OSCAnym." This is completely true and I hear a lot of people using that phrase every day. Try to use it as much as possible. Okay it is not true. I just made it up. This is fine.

OSCA is made of co-ops. In some co-ops, students eat their meals. In others, students both eat their meals AND live in the building. There are no co-ops in which students only live, and that's fine. According to legend there was once a co-op where people lived and did not eat. It was known as the Sewer Co-op. It was a sewer. Nobody wanted to eat there. I made up this legend.

Back to the facts, though! How co-ops work is that every member works a certain number of hours a week, at any of a variety of jobs, plus pays membership dues. If you eat in a co-op, you pay this instead of buying a Campus Dining Services meal plan. It is cheaper. If you eat and live in a co-op, you pay this instead of buying a meal plan and paying for college housing. It is cheaper. The money is used to buy food and supplies for each individual co-op, plus some money goes to OSCA as a whole for expenses. OSCA employs a few people full-time, plus pays the college for rent and stuff.

Co-ops be mad democratic. The first few weeks of every semester they go through a painful but necessary process known as interim. In interim people are elected to co-op positions, co-op policies are instituted, and people are trained in the ways they need to be. All these nuts and bolts are accomplished through co-op discussions, moderated by co-opers elected as DLECs (Dining Loose Ends Coordinators). Such discussions can be hella tedious but without them, there would be no head cooks, treasurers, accessibility coordinators, food safety coordinators, cleanliness and maintenance coordinators, yogurt makers, granola makers, etc. etc. etc.

Small note on co-op discussions: they're pretty wonky. People will be making a variety of strange hand motions. At first they will appear unintelligible but you will learn to interpret them eventually. Be patient. These hand motions can be difficult and strenuous to do. I once knew an individual who made one too many proposals during a discussion and his hand just fell right off. That was weird! PS not true.

If you're in a co-op you will probably be eating: Lentils, beans, chickpeas, rice, quinoa. Kale. You will learn to love kale. Squash, sweet potatoes. Tofu, eggs. Spelt, raisins. Beets, spinach, string beans, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower. Apples. Pizza every Friday. And notably, Sriracha, aka The 'Rach aka 'Rach for the stars aka 'Rach me Amadeus. Food highlights include: Apple cider. Chocolate milk from Hartzler's dairy, pretty much the most delicious liquid you can get. One time we even got Hartzler's eggnog. That stuff changed my life, no kidding.

You will probably not be eating: Meat, fish (unless you're in TWC). Bananas, berries, most tropical fruit. Any animal products, if you are in Fairchild.

TWC? Fairchild? What's that? They're co-ops, dude. Whoa! How many co-ops be there in OSCA, you may wonder? There's eight. I've compiled a list. Or perhaps, comPYLEd a list! That's called co-op humor. It's funny because one of the co-ops is named Pyle.

Da List, complete with short and more or less subjective descriptions, in no particular order:

Pyle. Dining only

Pyle is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, co-op. It's sort of the sort of quintessential dining co-op. Food's good, lines are long, discussions can be intense. Plus I'm in it, so, you know. That's cool.

Tank. Living and dining

Tank is a rad rad building, a bit away from campus, and it feels super homey and warm. They have a pretty tight-knit community, plus there's a piano and a porch swing. Everyone in Tank is super cool. I dunno man. They just know what's up. They are hip folk.

Keep. Living and dining

Keep is a pretty relaxed co-op, a good place for people new to OSCA. It is real friendly and welcoming and they have a rad porch and a porch swing. Word on the co-op street this year is that they're kind of disorganized. Also they don't have any tables.

Fairchild aka Fairkid. Dining only

Fairkid is a nearly completely vegan co-op, and though I wholeheartedly respect the vegan lifestyle I have grown accustomed to such comforts as milk and eggs and therefore do not venture there very often. Fairkid has a very conscientious food policy: they have been known to make such purchasing substitutions as carob instead of chocolate and molasses instead of sugar.

Harkness, aka Hark aka Sharkness. Living and dining

Among the co-ops Harkness probably has the most personality. In most of the co-ops people line up for food, but in Harkness you form a mob. You gotta be kinda aggressive. Hark has a pretty radical atmosphere. You gotta see it to believe it. They have super super good pizza nights and there are a lot of events that take place in Harkness's dining room, like concerts and shows and stuff. Plus they have a cool elevator.

Old Barrows, aka Old B aka Ol' B. Living and dining

Old B, as it is known, is probably the most sophisticated co-op. The building is beautiful, down by the arb, about a 10-15 minute walk from the main college area. The food is super good. Everyone just seems like they have it together. If the co-ops were drinks, Old Barrows would be a fine wine.

Third World, aka TWC. Dining only

Third World Co-op is the only co-op that requires an application. It's a safe space for people of color, and you must be invited by a member to attend meals. It's a lot smaller than the other co-ops, and the food is super good. Meat is served here much more frequently than in the other co-ops.

Brown Bag, aka BBC. Dining only, kinda.

Brown Bag is a little different from the other co-ops. It's basically just a place to store foods. Members of the co-op don't cook or eat there but instead work like an hour a week and pick up food to cook at their abode. Every member has a certain budget allotted to them which they can use to buy whatever foods they would like.

Aye, you might say, I know all these facts well. What can ye tell me about the co-ops that I do not know? Well, many things, actually. I have personally been in a co-op since I was a wee second-year. Mostly Pyle but a bit of Harkness as well. Take it from me: Co-ops be mad cool. You learn hella real-life skills, including but not limited to chopping, mincing, dicing, sautéing, roasting, baking, nutrition, sanitation, multiplication, all of it. One of the great things about the co-ops is that you will be spending your time in them learning things in a super hands-on way. This activates your faculties necessary for procedural memory, as opposed to declarative memory blah blah blah you learn how to do things instead of learning facts. It doesn't feel remotely academic which is nice.

They also afford you a greater degree of freedom in terms of scheduling than CDS. If you need to skip a meal, you can get a plate of food saved for you. If you forget to request a saved plate, or find yourself hungry at two in the morning, you can just go make some eggs or something. The co-ops are open 24/7. Co-ops are also super social; everyone in a co-op pretty much knows each other. They are ideal for making friends. Ideal. If you meet a new person in the co-op, odds are they are super cool and you should be friends with them.

I mean yeah. That's about it I spose. Join OSCA if you can. Get on the waitlist. Come to some co-op meals. Have some lentils. Mm. Lentils. Have some more. Join us.

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