Oberlin Blogs

Cooking It Up in a Co-op

October 13, 2023

Ariel Roberts ’25

I’ve finally taken part in an Oberlin rite of passage, otherwise known as joining a co-op. At the beginning of the semester, upon reading that the OSCA waitlist was still open, I decided to apply and see if I could join a dining co-op. I was fortunate enough to get a spot in Brown Bag Co-op before add-drop and am now enjoying all the splendor of co-op life!

The Brown Bag Co-op is unique among the dining co-ops in that there are no cooking shifts; members grab their foodstuffs from the grocery-esque setting and bring it back to their respective kitchens to cook. This is a popular option for students in village housing who have their own kitchens. For me, I was lucky enough to get a room in East right next to the second floor kitchen, which is a pretty large, nice space with lots of counter room for chopping and mixing. Especially as a busy third-year, I don’t have time for a lot of work shifts during the week, so BBC seemed like a great option with only two hours of easy steward shifts per week. My first week in the co-op I had a sudden worry that having to cook my own food would end up taking a lot of time, but it actually saved me way more than I thought. I make my meals in bulk during the weekend, so I end up being able to easily grab my meal instead of having to trek over to one of the dining halls. Having to cook my own meals has also helped me to slow down and take some time for myself; it’s become meditative and part of my self-care. It forces me to take a break from homework and clear my mind while I instead focus on chopping vegetables or making sure my curry simmers perfectly. 

This past weekend I made bean brownies, which was really fun because this was one of my first times baking something in a dorm kitchen. They’re super addictive, and I love the soft texture from the beans. The chocolate chips we have in BBC are from Equal Exchange, and let me tell you, they are the best chocolate chips I’ve had in my life. I also can’t get over the apples we have; they are SO crisp and sweet and you can tell they come straight from the farm. It inspired me to go over to the Oberlin Farmers Market where I got some early Christmas gifts and even more perfect apples. It’s really fun that I can try unique recipes like the bean brownies and have some local produce that I might not otherwise get on the campus dining plan.

I also love how BBC has made me so much more conscious of sustainability. In mass dining halls, a lot of waste is easily created through a need for convenience and mass service. In BBC, since all the produce is bought in bulk, each member has to bring their own containers for filling up with their foodstuffs. It made me realize how much waste I’m preventing by continually filling up reusable containers from one, large paper bag instead of buying a bunch of small, single-use packaging. Moreover, BBC is helping me eat a lot healthier. Our produce goes down to farm-fresh basics, so we don’t have snacky things like Doritos or fruit snacks. When I have cravings for things like potato chips, I think about making my own, which would end up being a lot healthier than the manufactured kind. It’s also just really fun to learn how to make all of your own food, and it makes me feel like if the world ended I could totally survive on my own. Don’t get me wrong, doing all my own cooking from scratch has a learning curve. Like who knew you had to soak dried beans for an hour and then simmer them for another hour and a half for them to be edible? Not me, but it didn’t feel inconvenient; once my beans were cooked, I felt really proud of myself. I can also make my own sugary treats, but they often have a healthy twist, as with my bean brownies. And if I’m desperate for the sweet preservatives of processed food, I can always go to Walmart or the Oberlin IGA and get a couple snacks. For example, I must always have some Nutella at hand, so this is one compromise I make.

I’m still new to the co-op community, but everyone has been so nice and I really felt quickly brought into the fold. All of us working to keep the co-op running really brings a sense of genuinely wanting to help each other and to be responsible not just for ourselves, but for everyone in the co-op. In my sociology class we’ve talked about how normal jobs can often be alienating, but I never feel that way when on my co-op shift. I go to the fridge and get some cucumbers for someone who will then go to the fridge and get me some apples later. We’re all there for each other and have an equality in the space that feels so much more communal than other ways of running things. It’s a space that I really enjoy being in. I think I’ve been converted to a co-oper for the rest of my time at Oberlin.

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