Why one kitchen?

In a comment on the preceding blog post, Lisa asks how we came to agreement on the shared kitchen. She’s not the first. It’s a puzzlement and a stumbling block to many. I won’t “give up” my kitchen is something we’ve heard more than once.

And I was startled, in looking back through other posts, to realize that since we started this blog, it’s always been a given — we haven’t really tried to explain it. I guess it’s time to do that!

The shared kitchen goes back to our initial retreat in March of 2016. The four of us drove together to the Inn where we intended to spend the weekend making plans. Along the way, we were still discussing the only model that had occurred to us to that point: that we would all buy condo units within the same building and, when there were enough of us, jointly buy an extra condo to serve as a common facility.

This model had the benefit of simplicity and allowing for growth over time, but when we analysed the costs we felt it was likely prohibitive. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t the matter of cost that changed our minds. It was the fact that, over the course of our weekend together, we realized that’s not the kind of arrangement we want. We’re looking for something that more closely resembles the idea of “intentional community,” which is best served by closer contact.

In my research on existing, traditional cohousing communties (by which I mean those that have self-contained, independent dwellings plus common facilities) I have not yet found one that manages to have a meal together even once a week. (Update: I’ve since learned of a cohousing community in upstate New York where shared meals are common. They seem to be the exception that proves the rule.A few get together every two weeks; the vast majority seem to eat together once a month or less. And we found ourselves thinking, “Why bother?” Why invest in those extra facilities if you’re only going to use them once a month?

And, conversely, if we each had our separate kitchens, we could easily imagine ourselves falling into the same pattern as all the others. Would you really be able to sustain the effort of cooking together as a group if you had the choice of just fixing something quick on your own? We imagined ourselves in our separate condos, having uprooted our lives for the sake of very little change. If all we want to do is get together once a month, we can do that now.

No, we want something more. As we see it, the dominant forms of elderly housing in North America these days tend toward a harsh choice between life in an institution, or a life of increasing social isolation.

We reject both choices, and a shared kitchen is integral to our view of a better alternative. The kitchen is often the very heart of the house. It’s where people gather — how often have you been at a party and suddenly noticed that everyone has gravitated to the kitchen?  It’s no accident that most religious  and cultural traditions have sacred rituals associated with eating together. It’s part of what binds us as human.

So for us, one kitchen symbolizes the kind of community we want. We’re not completely rigid about this: We will make additional facilities available, either in-suite or between two suites (TBD) so that, as one of us puts it, we can “make a cup of coffee and a piece of toast without going downstairs.”

But for us, the thought of sharing a kitchen, cooking together and, normally, sharing an evening meal together, is part of what we look forward to.  It’s not a sacrifice, it’s a benefit of community.

7 thoughts on “Why one kitchen?”

  1. Thanks for the explanation on a single kitchen. Besides, one kitchen allows for a decently equipped space which might not be efficient to provide several times over.

  2. Yes, I’m grateful for that explanation too, I’ve always tended towards the, “Yeah, but I want my own kitchen.” but your logic makes sense to me. Meanwhile, though, do you have a plan for dividing food costs? I’m not a big eater, or at least, always trying to lose weight! and often skip meals. Am I going to have to pay a set fee? Not against it, just wondering.

    1. Our current plan estimates the cost of consumables, everything from food to cleaning supplies, at $12 per person per day. Our friends at Rare Birds Cohousing in Kamloops base theirs on $10/person/day. I think our estimate is generous, but we budget to avoid unpleasant surprises. Like the Rare Birds, we will allow daily rebates for people who are away. We do not plan to charge or rebate by the meal. That feels too much like work.

      The Rare Birds have a separate bank account for daily expenses, and every member of the house has a debit card linked to that account. They review and reconcile accounts monthly. With several years experience of this now, they say it works quite well.

      Four women in Port Perry who moved into their cohousing last November (inevitably dubbed the “Golden Girls” in a Toronto Star feature last year) tell us they’re even less formal. “Each of us just throws $100 a week in a jar and we grab some of it when we’re going shopping.” That would be somewhat at the high end, roughly $13/person/day, but then they tell us that in their case it even includes wine.

      We expect to account for wine separately, he said dryly.

  3. You are right – its a super important issue. When considering co-housing in Toronto, the kinds of models we see profiled in the western US or in Europe all have advantages that don’t exist in Toronto: space. Thus as you allude to in your post, one option is to take a chunk of a condo, and configure it a la cohousing. In terms of the kitchen there are other issues at play too, notably space and economies of scale. One can do things, store things in a large cafeteria – sized kitchen you simply cannot do in a small kitchen. Thinking of that condo -type option, if one were to get in on (quite literally) the ground floor of a new development, and design it so that the co housing group has an incredibly beautiful, well appointed, and large kitchen & dining area – paired with quite tiny facilities in the individual units, the design could work to push people into the common kitchen. And not everyone has to eat at the same time, in the same place. Perhaps its 30% of the group – however large it is – that would be fine. As for me (interested in co-housing, but would need to partner with other families with family members requiring 24-7 care for a loved one) I couldn’t imagine having to give up my culinary passions which require places to process things like jams, chutneys, sausages, beer, bread etc. etc. because wherever I go to does not have the kitchen space or equipment.
    Burns Wattie

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