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January 30, 2014 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-01-30

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the i-ie

The Michigan Daily I michigandaily.com Thursday, January 30, 2014

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By Senloi Arts Ed or Giancario Buonomo

Cooking is one of those life skills
that, love it or hate it, you better
learn how to do, because you're
going to end up doing it a lot. And for
every person like Gordon Ramsay,
for whom "cooking is like having the
most massive hard-on plus Viagra
sprinkled on top of it and it's still
there 12 hour hours later," there is
another for whom a nightly kitchen
session makes them wonder what
evil they did in a past life to deserve
such a punishment.
College is typically the time when
one finally undergoes a (sometimes
literal) trial by fire and learns to
scrape together a satisfying meal
for him or herself and friends. In
the end, it usually works out. But
we're talking about cooking for your-
self and maybe three or four other
friends.
How about cooking for fifteen
other people? Or thirty?
While this may sound like a night-
mare for some students at the Univer-
sity, for those who live in a co-op, it's
all in a night's work. Having started
as a Great Depression-era solution for
cutting down room and board costs,
the University's co-op system now
contains eighteen houses. Co-ops
might have a r utation for crunchi-
ness and an arc ting attitude toward

a wide variety of controlled substanc-
es, but in reality they're serious oper-
ations; in almost every house, big or
small, members cook dinner for each
other five nights a week. This raises
some interesting questions. First: how
exactly do co-op members manage to
cook for so many people? And second:
can a co-op have its own "food cul-
ture?"
To find answers, I went to three
different co-ops and observed house
members cook dinner for their entire
house, talked with them and even
sampled the night's offering. It was, to
say the least, a deliciously interesting
time.
Debs
Situated at the corner of East Uni-
versity and Oakland, the Eugene V.
Debs Cooperative has a reputation as
a small, intimate house dedicated to
sustainability. On their website, Debs
describes itself as "a vegetarian, vegan
friendly house that makes an effort to
buy organic and local food and house-
hold goods from environmentally and
socially conscious producers."
"We buy all of our ingredients
locally and organic," says Kurt Muel-
ler, Debs co-op president and Univer-
sity Alum. "We end up spending more

money to do that, but we just have to
do it."
Having had little experience with
vegetarian food or environmen-
tally friendly cleaning products, I'm
intrigued to say the least as I ascend
the snowy stairs and enter the cozy
red house.
The inside of Debs looks exactly as
I had pictured a co-op might look. The
walls are lined with years of accu-
mulated knick knacks: concert post-
ers, collages, street signs and enough
Asian art to form a small shop. All
around the living room, adjacent to
the kitchen, mefnbers of the house
lounge on the well worn couches and
chat. The air smells of incense and tea.
I feel like I've been transported back
to Haight-Ashbury in 1968. In fact,
I'm so overwhelmed by the neo-psy-
chedelic environment that as I walk
into the kitchen, I assume one of the
cabinets is labeled "LSD AND POT,"
only to realize it actually says "LIDS
AND POTS."
Debs, like most co-ops, has a system
where each member must contrib-
ute a certain number of work-hours
a week, and many house members
choose to cook one night a week as
part of that work. And although some
house members are seasoned veterans
behind Deb's little electric stove, LSA

senior Erin Barber is a newcomer to
both Debs and co-op cooking.
"This is my first time," Barber says.
Nevertheless, when I arrive at
the kitchen, Barber is already hard
at work grating a pile of peeled car-
rots. Barber is serving breakfast for
dinner tonight - the grated carrots
are for vegan carrot-cake pancakes,
which will be accompanied by a tofu
scramble. Barber is working solo right
now; Debs usually has two cooks per
meal, but Barber's partner had to be
somewhere else, so she peeled the
carrots beforehand. Those peels were
of course deposited in the large com-
post bucket right next to the stove,
complete with a sign detailing exactly
what can and cannot be deposited
there (who knew that you shouldn't
compost limes?)
Debs is a medium-sized co-op (they
have 23 members), but their kitchen
is noticeably smaller, with a standard
household sink and a four-burner
electric stove.
"We are one of the very few co-ops
that doesn't have an industrial kitch-
en," Mueller says.
Barber finishes grating the car-
rots and is joined by LSA sophomore
Michael Stinavage, who graciously
agrees to fill in for her absent part-
ner. Together, they get going on those

pancakes. First, they mix ground flax
seeds, almond milk, maple syrup and
a variety of spices in a large bowl,
which now looks like the BFG has
just finished eating a bowl of cereal
out of it. Then, they add flour and that
mound of shredded carrots. All the
while, Debsters drift in and out of the
kitchen, making tea and small talk.
With the small kitchen comes a flex-
ible and Macgyver-esque approach
toward cooking. The recipe makes six
pancakes, but tonight, forty-two are
needed, which makes for some awk-
ward guesstimation when multiply-
ing, say, three-fourths of a tablespoon
of vinegar times seven. Then, there's
a momentary panic when Stinavage
discovers that there's no gluten-free
flour left, a necessity to make pan-
cakes for allergenic Debsters. Think-
ing quickly, he grinds up some oats to
make a "flour," which he adds to some
of the reserved almond-milk mixture.
He hands me some of the resulting
batter, which although cat food-like in
appearance, hasan appealing oatmeal
cookie-dough-like taste.
While the extensive improvisation
might look like sloppiness to some,
Debsters insist that a relaxed atmo-
sphere, even in the kitchen, is a co-op
essential.
See COOP Page 3B

Photos by Nick W iliams
Design byJake Wellins

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