This year I'm dining in Old Barrows co-op, and it's been one of the best parts of my semester. For many reasons, co-op life has left me feeling healthier, happier, and more engaged in the Oberlin community and the world around me. The following is a list of the eleven things I have most enjoyed about being a part of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) thus far.
1. The food is better than the food in the dining halls.
I ate in Campus Dining Services (CDS) last year, and the dining hall food here really isn't bad. I am a huge fan of Dascomb pizza and A House mac and cheese. There really is a lot of variety and the dining halls have a lot of healthy options. That being said, I'm a vegetarian who doesn't like vegetables all that much, my favorite three food groups are bread, cheese, and ice cream, and I get tired of meals pretty quickly when they're served again and again. By the end of last year, the entrees served in the dining halls became a bit too familiar, I had no interest in the salad bar, and I spent a lot of meals eating pizza, bagels, and cereal. I was generally pretty happy about that, but my body was not.
Being in a co-op has been so much better for me. I've discovered that I actually like vegetables when they are cooked with yummy seasoning. I have a newfound love for brussels sprouts and beets, two vegetables I'm pretty sure I never actually tried before this year because I was opposed to their appearance. Co-op meals are always well-balanced because cooks have to serve a vegetable, a protein, and a starch, so you get a little bit of everything. And all the meals are pretty different, so I definitely haven't tired of the food the way I did when I was in CDS. Meals still often come with a sweet treat, like cake or scones or brownies, but there are healthy protein and veggie choices too, and that balance keeps me happy and healthy.
2. Scheduled mealtimes are awesome.
When I first joined OSCA I was a little nervous about having a set mealtime every day, because I spent my freshman year cramming in meals whenever was convenient, fitting eating time in between studying, activities, and socializing. Sometimes I skipped meals and then ate a bigger meal later, or didn't eat dinner until late in the night. At the time, I thought this was convenient, but in retrospect I don't think my chaotic eating schedule was very good for me.
Having set meal times every day has been really nice for me. I like taking 45 minutes out of my day to sit and eat, and having that time set aside helps me prioritize it. When I didn't have set meals it was easy to let eating slip to the bottom of my to-do list. Now I have an easier time encouraging myself to leave schoolwork aside for a moment and go enjoy a meal. And I think eating at the same time every day has put my body into a routine that makes me feel good. I'm always just the right amount of hungry when meal times come around, and I don't suddenly realize I'm starving at bedtime because I forgot to eat dinner. And when you can't make it to a meal, it's super easy to get a save plate, so the food is waiting for you whenever you're ready for it.
3. You learn cooking skills that will be important later in life.
Before this year, my cooking skills consisted of pouring cereal into a bowl and putting butter on bread. Not anymore! I'm on two different cooking shifts with three really awesome head cooks who all know a lot about making delicious food. I'm learning about spices and seasoning and vegan substitutes for butter (canola oil!), and how to use things like whisks and ovens. I'm hoping this knowledge will prevent me from subsisting entirely off of ramen noodles and frosted flakes in my post-college early adulthood.
4. You make new friends!
The friends I've made in Old B this year are some of my favorite people I've met at Oberlin so far. Co-ops let you meet people you might not otherwise interact with. I've gotten really close to people in different years and majors, people who live in different places on campus and are from different parts of the country, and people I might not otherwise have interacted with. Mealtimes are great for having good conversations, and seeing people twice a day every day sparks a special kind of closeness.
5. You never have to worry about finding friends to eat lunch with, because you know that your co-op friends will be at your meals.
As a first-year, I expended a lot of unnecessary energy worrying about not wanting to eat alone. I would get hungry and text every single one of my friends asking if they were down to grab a meal. I now know that eating alone is really no big deal, but eating in a co-op it's not something that I ever have to worry about. I just show up to the meal and know that I will have friendly faces around me to share my meal with.
6. You can co-op hop.
Once you're in OSCA, it's pretty easy to try a meal at another co-op once in a while. I really like visiting other co-ops as a guest of my friends there and trying different food and talking to different people. It's another way to change things up so the routine never gets boring.
7. Pizza nights and special meals are fun and delicious.
If there's one thing I love in this world it's good pizza. Knowing that I get to eat amazing pizza every single Friday has made this semester exponentially better. I wake up on Friday morning ready for pizza night, and it never disappoints. There are pizzas with all the cheese and toppings you could ever want, and you can keep going back for slice after slice until you need to unbutton your jeans and lie on the floor waiting for your food to digest. (This is how I end pretty much all my pizza nights.) Old B pizza night is my own personal slice of heaven.
Special meals are also super fun and always really yummy. People sign up to cook one special meal a semester, and the cooks put in extra effort to make the food extra exciting. Old B recently had a Hanukah theme special meal with latkes and kugel, and each table had dreidels and gelt on it. We also had an art show themed special meal that served all kinds of tasty hors d'oeuvres and showcased art on the walls, with paper and crayons for drawing on the tables. And at the beginning of the year we had a circus-themed special meal where we ate chicken tacos and drank watermelon lemonade while watching circus performances and listening to music on the lawn in front of Old B.
8. You have a say in all the decisions your co-op makes.
Being in OSCA means that you have a voice in your co-op, and that voice is equal to every other member's voice. There are no adults/administrators making the decisions for us. We decide, as a co-op, how we want to spend our money, what policies we want to live by, and what food we want to eat. We make decisions through consensus, so we try to get everyone in agreement, rather than just going with the majority. This decision-making process can be really empowering and fosters community in a really cool way.
9. There are so many delicious things!
Besides the meals, co-ops also have a lot of yummy treats. Tasty things makers, bread makers, and granola makers keep the co-op stocked with goodies that you can take any time you want, which I am a huge fan of. There's nothing like a little chocolate chip granola or pumpkin bread to brighten up my day. I've also come to look forward to drinking apple cider and chocolate milk with my meals, another tasty benefit of being in OSCA.
10. You save money.
OSCA is significantly cheaper than CDS, and in addition to your 14 meals a week you can go in and cook for yourself using the food in the kitchen, grab bread or tasty things to take back to your dorm room, and help yourself to the fresh produce that is often in the co-op's refrigerator. This means that OSCA is a really great way to make Oberlin a little bit more financially accessible. Also, any money that isn't spent during the course of the semester is returned to the members through reimbursement checks the next semester.
11. OSCA provides a lot of really important learning opportunities.
Besides learning how to cook, OSCA has taught me a lot of great lessons about what it means to be a part of a community, how I can take care of a space by being accountable for myself, and the importance of shared and individual responsibility. OSCA requires its new members to attend workshops to learn about what it means to be a member of a co-op and how we can work together to create the best community possible, and every member is required to attend anti-oppression trainings so that we can try to make OSCA a space that doesn't perpetuate the systematic oppressions of the wider world, as much as that's possible. I've learned so much from the other members of my co-op and my experience as a co-oper, and it's an experience I'm incredibly grateful for and truly believe to be invaluable.