Every six weeks, I spend one full day in the kitchen. And in return, I have fresh, home-cooked food in my fridge All. The. Time.
This is not an ode to my freezer. It’s an ode to my soup collective.
Every Sunday night, I bring a couple of Tupperware containers to a neighbor’s house. I never have to go far – the collective is localized on my block. Two people have cooked big vats of soup (or stew, or curry, or sometimes something else entirely) and I take my portion (40 ounces or five cups per person) and go home. But usually I stay and chat for a little while. I’ve gotten to be close friends with many neighbors over the course of a year and a half of soup pick-ups.
It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever organized. I sent one e-mail to the block list-serve, and the dividends it pays are immeasurable. Especially when you have kids.
Cooking healthy, delicious food from scratch is an enormous challenge for parents. We want to eat well. We want to give our kids good, wholesome food that will help them grow and develop a taste for nutritious food. But who has time, especially during the week?
Here’s how it works: On a Google spreadsheet, everyone in the collective signs up for cook shifts (about once every six weeks) and RSVPs for the week ahead. Now that about one-third of our members are vegetarian (and several more lean heavily in that direction), all soups are either vegetarian or have a veggie version. When it’s my turn to cook, I spend a Sunday making soup for everyone, and then they come over between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. Sunday to pick it up. One neighbor usually brings over whatever glass of Belgian ale he’s been enjoying and keeps drinking it over here for a while. If someone’s rushing to get home to put their kids to bed, they take their soup and split. Otherwise, we hang out for a little while.
We operate on a “from each according to her abilities, to each according to his needs” mentality, meaning parents of newborns get to keep picking up soup even if they slack for a few weeks (or months) on their cooking duties. (At 36 weeks pregnant, I have to say I’m grateful for that approach.)
In recent weeks, our little collective has enjoyed chana masala, risotto with kale pesto, immunity soup, sweet potato chili, curried cauliflower soup… the creativity of these people knows no bounds. Which is nice, because my own creativity definitely does. If I were cooking for my family alone, I wouldn’t have ever thought to make half these dishes. And if I weren’t out to impress a dozen hot-shot amateur chefs on my block, would I have ever even bothered to make a cauliflower and caramelized onion tart? Or would I have just opened another can of Goya beans that night?
One of the best parts of this experiment: this group of people who, before, had only geography in common, has since organized a massive Pete Seeger singalong, swapped holiday cookies, shared childbirth stories, advised each other on unemployment insurance, collaborated on local council campaigns, watched the Super Bowl together, and helped each other with bike repair and backyard shed construction. Turns out sharing food is an excellent way to build community, too.
Snyder is a D.C.-based reporter and soon-to-be mother of two.
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