Meals Together at Los Angeles Eco-Village

New Years Eve Potluck Dinner organized by Yuki

New Years Eve Potluck Dinner - organized by Yuki - in the Community Room

Like most intentional communities there are frequent shared meals at Los Angeles Eco-Village. There’s been some discussion lately about guests attending these shared meals. For the really intrepid stickler reader there’s the more official summary of what we’ve discussed and decided about this, see meeting notes here and here on the LAEV wiki. For the rest of us, I thought I’d blog down some of my thoughts about meals and how they work for us and for me.

We have a whole spectrum of shared meals – from the more intimate to the downright crowded.

Many of the smaller meals happen informally and rather spontaneously, such as when Melba Thorn brought out a bowl of her vegan chili to be shared by a couple of us digging a hole to plant a jujube tree. Permit me to mention here that Melba is one of the best cooks at LAEV, though she may not want to be called a cook as her organic vegan food creations are nearly all raw also. I guess she’s called a food designer. Everything she makes is very yummy and very healthy. Melba’s vegan organic chocolates and desserts are sold at local health food stores and increasing all over – and can be ordered from her Native Gardens website. One of the most enjoyable smaller meals recently (other than Melba’s chili,) was a wonderful Korean dinner cooked up by Kwanwoo for a half-dozen neighbors (see the blurry cell-phone photo below which does that phenominal meal no justice.) These small meals happen relatively spontaneously and aren’t really part of any formal participation – they’re just neighbors hanging out with neighbors.

More formally, we have two main types of meals: potlucks and Super Suppah (which has a tradition of being spelled differently by different people – so I’ve had fun varying its spelling here.)

Potlucks take place each Sunday night, starting at 7pm… well… more like 7:10 or 7:15. Right now, in the Winter, these take place in the upstairs community room. In warmer weather, they take place in the courtyard, lobby, or in the street. Everyone brings a (generally vegetarian) dish and their own place settings. There’re no assigned dishes and very little communication ahead of time, so, once in a while many people will show up with the same stuff, especially when there’s an abundance of some vegetable in that week’s Food Lobby box. Nearly all the time, though, there’s an excellent and abundant mix of dishes. Frequently folks will incorporate food harvested from the LAEV Garden. Lara Morrison, one of our standout cooks, does this masterfully.

Souper Suppers, the brainchild of another standout LAEV cook: Dr. Ann Finkelstein, take place somewhat sporadically, though generally mid-week. For Supah Supper, one or a couple of eco-villagers announce ahead of time that they’ll be hosting, then others just show up. Soopah suppahs have been great. Really delicious, generally smaller than potlucks. And, other than when I am the host (every ~3 months,) I just get to show up and eat. Unfortunately they wax and wane. Some weeks/months nobody came forward and the mid-week meal just didn’t happen. It took some organizing (thanks Ann) to get folks to come forward and make them happen consistently.

There are some other shared meals that don’t fall neatly into the categories I’ve just outlined – such as the one pictured above, which was a potluck New Year’s Eve dinner potluck, organized by Yuki. We eat out together, too, whether at the Thai place in the local strip mall, or a short bike ride to Pure Luck.

Group meals are a part of LAEV’s official participation expectation, which states that eco-village members need to, at a minimum, do two out of three of the following every month: 1) attend one weekly community meeting, 2) attend one weekly meal, and/or 3) contribute four volunteer hours toward a community project.

So… what has the discussion been?

Let me premise this by stating that I am deaf in my left ear. It’s not a huge deal – though I have no sense of hearing direction, and I make sure I keep the person I want to speak with on my right. It does mean that I don’t hear well in a room with a lot of folks talking at once. So I am not all that comfortable in a really large group eating dinner together.

A few of us recently expressed some displeasure in that our Sunday potlucks have been very popular, with sometimes as much as 15-20 eco-villagers and another dozen guests. The thought was that we might set aside certain weeks for just us locals, with few to no guests. Most of the community wasn’t happy with this proposal. They expressed that not only would it be difficult to remember which week was which, but that it would also be bureaucratic for us to introduce rules about how we should conduct meals. The Sunday potluck is a place that many of us, myself included occasionally, introduce new folks to LAEV.

And… what did we decide?

Instead of placing restrictions on the Sunday meal, we decided to create an additional shared meal that would be limited to just eco-villagers – open to just members, candidates for membership, current short-stay residents and neighbors. The additional meal is currently slated for Thursday nights; sometimes it’s a sooper supper. If no supa suppa host comes forward, then it’s a potluck. The limitation is a soft one: generally don’t bring gaggles of guests, but if your mom/best-friend/favorite-blogger is in town visiting for a couple days and you want to bring her on Thursday, no problem – though invite your rugby-team/party-central-committee/book-club to visit on a Sunday.

(A short qualifier to members of the general public that may read this: just because we are open to guests at our Sunday potlucks doesn’t mean that you should just show up unannounced any Sunday. First of all, once in a long while, we’ll cancel or reschedule a Sunday potluck, such as when we’ve been in an all-weekend-long retreat together. So, we’d like you to come to a dinner, but I’d suggest that you contact one of us before you attend. If you don’t know anyone at LAEV, you could use the contact information here… though my suggestion would be that you’ll learn much more about eco-village by taking a tour first, before you attend a potluck. Up to you, though. If you come to the potluck, please bring food to share, serving utensils, plate, cup/glass, bowl and silverware – single-use disposable stuff discouraged. Please note that we have many vegetarians and a few vegans, so your dish will be much likely to be better received if it doesn’t have any meat in it.)

This shared meals set-up seems to strike a balance between the joint purposes of meals as times that we share our community with others, and times that we build relationships among ourselves. So far I think it’s working well. We’ve had two super supper Thursdays, and they’ve been delicious… so I am looking forward to more shared meals ahead.

Time to finish up, this blog is making me hungry…

Intimate Dinner in Kwanwoo's Apartment

Intimate Dinner in Kwanwoo's Apartment

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Why We Show Up

After destaking the cork oaks on Vermont Avenue

After destaking the cork oaks on Vermont Avenue

Intro: At the December POG retreat I was asked to write this essay. I researched it mostly in social science and anthropology studies, so it can’t really be considered an opinion piece. It didn’t work for Transition Times so I am publishing it here. – Kathy Hill

Community: Is LAEV a Karass or a Granfalloon?
Why you should attend Community Meetings and Potlucks often

Community is vital for humans. Popular Ecovillage author Scott Peck said: “There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”

In Bokononism, a fictional religion in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, a “karass” is a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God’s will. A “granfalloon” is a false karass, a group of people who imagine they have a connection, but really do not. For example, Hoosiers are people from Indiana, and Hoosiers have no true spiritual destiny in common, so they really share little more than a name.

Think of the ways you have bonded with people in your life. Chances are it was in one of two ways, over food or through work. People who take meals together tend to meld. Potlucks may be LAEV’s foremost bonding ritual, allowing friendships to bloom without the pressure of an agenda. Participation in work parties, weekly meetings, committee work and other shared tasks strengthens these bonds.

A “community” is not just a social unit larger than a household, a group of people living near one another who interact; it is more cohesive than other forms of association, thanks to a unity of will. A high degree of cohesion distinguishes intentional communities (ICs) from other voluntary associations. Although an “accidental” community may form in time of crisis, an IC is, by definition, “a deliberate residential community with a much higher degree of social interaction than other communities, sharing a common vision, responsibilities and resources.” (WIkipedia.) People join or remain in ICs for the good of the group and its shared mission; it takes a high degree of social interaction to realize a community’s intentions.

Destaking cork oaks was hard work

Destaking cork oaks was hard work

Once any community gets started, there are two directions it can take. If members are present out of self-interest (low cost of living, convenient location or other benefit), the group loses cohesiveness, becomes deficient in critical interactions, and devolves into a looser association, neighbors who share little but their address; a feedback loop keeps making this worse. The community will dissolve.

If members become free enough to share, and secure enough to get along, their connectedness and growing social networks net them more social capital, so they interact more—the opposite feedback loop develops. This gradual process of community-building permits the group to live up to its highest purpose and it thrives.

What factors tell which path an IC takes, toward loose, random connections or tight, effective cohesion? The degree to which the values of a community are communicated and honored determines willingness of members to engage. Then tolerance, reciprocity, and trust encourage continued involvement and an investment of that social capital. These critical communications can only take place through face time: “interaction.”

Maintaining this sense of community is difficult, so other ICs use a wide variety of practices to encourage interaction, ranging from simple potlucks and small book clubs to large-scale festivals or major construction projects, because participation is the means by which parts learn to make an effective whole.

At the Los Angeles Eco-Village, many members contribute to the mission in hidden ways: working for environmental causes, going car-free, eating low on the food chain. These efforts are worthy, but they do not build community, develop cohesion, or foster unity. Only through participation in shared activities do we get to know, trust, and respect each other.
At our weekly meetings and potlucks, you are most likely to get to know and perhaps love the rest of your ecovillage family, hear the buzz, meet prospective members and other guests, and bond with these neighbors and friends in meaningful ways. Then, after a meal and a meeting, check out the under-development “Participation Matrix” that lists all the ways to volunteer your time.