When my daughter was about one and a half and crawling, making dinner was no easy feat. I would spend about two minutes focused on cutting vegetables until I had to check and make sure she wasn’t about to die from electrocution or fall from a high surface.
I knew my frustration was common. At play groups and singalongs you’d often hear this common mom lament: “And how am I supposed to get dinner on the table every night?”
I can blame parenthood, but the truth is, getting a healthy dinner prepared and on the table each night has been a challenge since, well, forever. Growing up I watched my parents struggle, postwork, to prepare something for my brother and me. I can’t count how many times my feminist mom went “on strike,” leaving us to make our own meals.
So there I was, a parent frantically chopping vegetables and sautéing tofu while doing my best to a keep a watchful eye over my crawler, and I got an idea. What if several families joined forces and cooked for one another? How hard could it be to just chop and prepare a bit more sometimes? Convinced my idea had legs, I recruited two other families and our supper club was born.
Supper club rules: Food had to be vegetarian, had to contain organic ingredients whenever possible, and it had to be enough to feed a small family. On your cooking day you also had to deliver the meals to the families. The idea was that you cooked one day for six people, delivered the meal to the other families, and then two days a week a healthy dinner would be delivered to your house.
I volunteered to go first. My vegetarian chili with cornbread was a success. I heard from one nursing mom, who said the beans didn’t go over so well with her baby, but she also said just having something for her husband that was homemade and healthy with enough for leftovers for lunch was divine.
Undoubtedly, the no-kids couple cooked up the best meals; they didn’t have ankle biters getting in the way. But each family did its best to deliver a healthy, if not gourmet, crowd-pleasing meal.
Our supper club ran smoothly until summer arrived and we suspended it because everyone was on vacation. Sadly, we didn’t resume in the fall; one couple wasn’t onboard and the excitement faded.
It’s been more than a decade since the supper club. Today, emphasis on supporting and participating in community events is perhaps bigger than it’s been in several generations. We flock to farmers’ markets, avoid shopping at chain stores, and congregate in local cafés. Concurrently, though, technology renders us more independent and isolated than ever.
I say the time is ripe for supper clubs—and garden clubs, childcare co-ops, and why not elder-care clubs?
Extended family living in close proximity used to play the role of all of these. Cooking, childcare and elder care were covered by aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews and cousins. Since the 1950s, when the nuclear family unit replaced the extended-family web, we’ve been going it alone—each family for itself.
Community clubs could certainly provide the gap we now have in support and camaraderie.
These clubs could go in any direction members deem necessary. A grocery-shopping club could mean you shop once a month for four families; then groceries are delivered to your doorstep the other three weeks. A community garden would replace your own high-maintenance one. Group elder care could translate into sharing meal delivery and hang-out time with elders who need assistance.
These co-ops, clubs, whatever you want to call them, utilize community but avoid the social messiness of their extremes—communes or cohousing. The independence of the nuclear family would be maintained but would benefit from community support.
If the idea of community clubs excites you, talk about it with neighbors. You’ll be surprised at the enthusiasm that will surround the idea. It’s part of our nature to embrace community—sometimes we just need a reminder about how to do it.