The Oberlin Stories Project

On a special meal at his co-op

Matt O'Connell ’09

“For me, this meal was exactly what Oberlin’s co-ops are all about: making food with your friends, and knowing exactly where your meal came from.”

Matt works at a food slicing machine.

Special meals happen at most of OSCA’s dining co-ops every Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch. Over the semester, every member in the co-op has to cook and clean ("crew") one of these meals. It’s a one-time meal, and not a weekly co-op duty, so people usually try to sign up as a group with their friends to make a meal with a theme. I’ve had memorable meals with very creative themes, from Redwall, Space Robots (which somehow involved Dutch baby pancakes), and Viking (a long-standing tradition at Keep Co-op). Of course, there are more self-explanatory meals, such as Greek, Indian, and diner special meals. Really, though, the sky’s the limit.

My favorite special meal, to date, was the Murder Mystery special meal that I helped cook in the spring of my first year. Although this was a Saturday dinner meal, my friends and co-cooks, Marya Brennan ’08, Jackie Bousek ’08, Maya Silver ’08, and Mark Wessels ’08, and I planned this major event several weeks in advance. The menu was bean pate with sundried tomatoes on baguette crisps, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce, linguini with an alfredo sauce, and raspberry sorbet. We made enough of each delicate dish to feed 90 people (Keep usually dines 75, but we had some friends coming, too). This being OSCA, we made everything from scratch, with the exception of the linguini itself.

We started cooking about twenty hours before our meal began, immediately after Friday-night pizza crew finished cleaning the kitchen. (OSCA has many traditions beyond special meals, including a dedicated Pizza Night every Friday.) We concentrated on making the baguettes and the sorbet that night. Everyone took turns battling with the hand cranked machine ice cream maker. After a few hours, someone had the brilliant idea of rigging the machine to a bicycle, allowing the bike to do most of the work for us. We didn’t get to sleep until late that night, and the next day after a quick breakfast we were right back in the kitchen, for a whole day of cooking. Our Friday night work paid off, giving us time to spruce up the dining room with tablecloths and flowers.

As time ran down, we realized we had forgotten one important thing- the murder mystery! As we put finishing touches on everything and brought the food out, we had to come up with a game for the co-op to play. It turned out remarkably well. We had everyone who was interested in participating sit in one part of the dining room, and slipped our murderer a piece of paper explaining that he was the killer. He “killed” three of our fellow co-opers, before someone jumped out of their seats, pointing and screaming, “It’s Roman!” With that, there were gasps as he looked bewildered and ran out of the house, and then applause for both the game, and a fantastic meal.

For me, this meal was exactly what Oberlin’s co-ops are all about: making food with your friends, and knowing exactly where your meal came from. We get to sit down at dinner every day of our college experience knowing the intimate details of our food, from which of our fellow co-opers dreamt up the dish and who helped to cook it to where the ingredients were grown. Not only are our bellies well-served by our work, we also learn valuable skills like granola and bread making, food sanitation, budgeting, and perhaps most importantly, we learn to make decisions together through consensus by thoughtful listening and respect for each other.