Today is a special day…it’s the OSCA (Oberlin Student Cooperative Association) Lottery Day for the 2021-22 academic year! This means that hopeful Oberlin students are entering a lottery to find out which co-op they will be placed in next year. Whenever this time of year comes around, I find myself feeling nostalgic for my co-op days, especially since this year the co-ops aren’t running. Thinking about co-op life has me remembering one of my favorite OSCA traditions: special meals. In my co-op, Tank, we had a special meal every Saturday night, which generally entailed some sort of themed, more-elaborate-than-usual meal that takes an extra hour to cook (and to clean up afterwards). Some other co-ops, like Harkness (which many of my friends have been in), have a whopping TWO special meals on weekends. Special meals are normally well attended, and it’s always a fun surprise to get the menu email and to find out what delectable dishes await the membership. So, without further ado, here’s a list of the special-est special meals I can remember from my time in OSCA (with some honorable mentions from Harkness):
Taco not-Tuesday Special Meal
My first ever Tank special meal was a taco bar. Though the meal wasn’t as elaborate as some others I experienced, it has a special sentimental place in my heart because it was cooked by some now very lovely OSCA friends and was the first one I ever went to. The tortillas were homemade, and there was guac, beans, homemade salsa, and many other delicious toppings.
Ramen Special Meal
One wintry, blustery night, someone in Tank prepared a beautiful ramen bar, complete with marinated eggs and pickled veggies. Needless to say, it was quite the hit. Tankers galore filled their bowls, large mugs, miscellaneous vaguely bowl-shaped vessels (e.g.: giant ladle) with steaming broth, noodles, and toppings. I remember this night I also went to a diary open mic at the Cat in the Cream coffeehouse, where students read hilarious childhood diary entries to the assembled crowd. Happy memories all around.
In fall 2019, a fellow Tanker and their mom made an authentic (!!!) Korean food special meal, which included a massive jar of non-co-op-affiliated kimchi (fermented foods are not allowed in OSCA for safety reasons). The dishes were numerous, spirits were high, and massive plates of Korean food were enjoyed by all for hours on end.
Breakfast(s) for Dinner
Breakfast for dinner is a classic special meal, and one that I experienced several times during my OSCA tenure. One of them was a rare meat-containing meal with bacon and sausage and gravy to go with the homemade (!!!) biscuits. I believe there were also two types of pancakes and eggs and other delicious things. Another breakfast special meal in the spring of my sophomore year featured French toast with berry compote and hashbrowns. I love breakfast food, so an entire OSCA meal containing only breakfast items had to be part of this list.
This special meal was head-cooked by a few upperclassmen Tank veterans. For this meal, rather than several large, main dishes, the chefs prepared several smaller amuse-bouche, canape-type delicacies. We all dressed up (to the extent that Oberlin students dress up, that is) and jazz music was played softly from several speakers in the lounge. I remember tomato tarts and caramelized onion galettes, wearing a black dress, and people milling around the Tank lounge enjoying each other’s company and the delicious appetizers until we’d had our fill.
4/20 Special Meal
This Special Meal was cooked on April 20th, 2019. It was themed in the sense that all the menu items were things that the head chefs enjoyed eating…at certain times in the presence of certain substances. There were brownies (normal ones, I promise), tofu nuggets, mac and cheese, and some other yummy snack foods. The meal was one of the smaller special meals I attended, but for those who went, it was a lovely time eating foods that many of us enjoyed as children.
Honorary mentions: Harkness co-op
New Mexican Food Special Meal
Two of my now-housemates were in Harkness, another lovely co-op, so I ate there a fair amount during my sophomore and junior years. Once I got a text from my friend Piper telling me that there was a New Mexican special meal being cooked in Hark, and that I had to come. Turns out, the head chef of the meal was from Santa Fe, NM, and as a proud New Mexican, there was no way I could pass up this opportunity. I rushed over to Hark and filled my plate with enchiladas, beans, rice, horchata, and other amazing New Mexican fare, complete with authentic Hatch Green Chili (my other New Mexican readers will understand). Weirdly, another New Mexican Obie was also at that meal, and I ended up sitting at the same table as him. Also weirdly, his parents were visiting, and his mom was a German woman. We spoke a little German together and I told her about my connections to both New Mexico and the German language. It was a small world kind of moment. And yes, the food was also incredible.
I didn’t actually attend this meal, but I heard a lot about it. Similar to the Korean food meal in Tank, this meal was cooked by a Harkness member and their visiting family members, who made an elaborate and authentic Vietnamese food meal. I have been assured by those who were there that it was completely excellent. This is just another example of how OSCAns often share regional cuisine and cultural dishes with each other to form community around food.
Bonus: Sensory Immersion Meal
This one takes the cake for classic weird OSCA vibes, and thus had to be included here. In Hark, residents received the following menu email:
If that doesn’t provide enough info, just know that part of this meal involved all the participants sitting outside with their eyes shut and simultaneously each eating one kumquat. Inside the co-op, members could plunge their hands into buckets of dry lentils. It was a multi-media experience including a variety of audio-visual stimuli. Multiple textural elements were included and while you were eating, there was also some ASMR-type stuff happening, with people whispering into diners’ ears or gently running their hands across people’s shoulders as they ate. I have also been told there was possibly a bubble machine, but this has not been confirmed. You get the idea.
And that concludes the list of special-est special meals. There were doubtless many more amazing special meals I enjoyed but no longer remember. This little tradition is one of the things that makes OSCA so special and one of the things I miss the most about my time in the Oberlin co-op system.
Best of luck to those entering the lottery! May all your OSCA dreams come true, and may you also have the special-est of special meals.
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