Beloit, Wis. — “I was worried,” Maggie Thulson was telling me as she fished around in a big pot of butternut-squash soup for a missing cinnamon stick, “that some people wouldn’t know how to cook very well.”
“Like me,” said Jeanne Mrugacz.
“But I’ve learned to cook kale five different ways,” Ms. Thulson said, staring into the soup as she stirred.
“Are you sure you put in two sticks?” Ms. Mrugacz asked.
Ms. Thulson was pretty sure. While she continued to search, I checked the slow-foods co-op’s dinner menu. Besides the squash soup, the 15 Beloit College students who are members would enjoy lentil loaf, a salad with cabbage, apples, and pomegranates, and fresh homemade bread—the last item a menu staple four days a week, courtesy of two student bakers, Elizabeth Makarewicz and Sophia Noorani.
The co-op, which is new this semester, is the result of a lot of planning and scheming by its founders. “The main reason we wanted to do this was so we could have control over what we put in our bodies,” said Clara Baker. The group worked closely with the college’s administration, she said, but when administrators couldn’t come up with a kitchen for them, co-op members cut their own deal with residents of the college’s French House to use the house kitchen five nights a week. Members originally pledged to eat in the French House basement, but instead ate in the back yard until cold weather arrived. Then they asked if they could eat in the dining room, and the French House residents said, Oui.
Co-op members kicked in $213.50 each at the beginning of the semester, and the group used the money to buy two shares in a local weekly community-supported agriculture program run by Angelic Organics, plus one share in an every-other-week fruit CSA. Members pick up boxes of seasonal Angelic Organics produce and store them in an extra refrigerator at the French house, and plan meals around whatever the boxes contain. They supplement the produce with grocery runs for pasta, rice, flour, and other ingredients, much of which they buy from a bulk-foods store run by local Mennonites. They’re looking for a winter CSA to replace the Angelic Organics shares, which will end soon.
The co-op is vegetarian for the time being, and is particularly cautious about good sanitation (which, thanks to some members’ summer-camp experience, they accomplish without using bleaches). Most of the c-op members are still on the college’s meal plan, taking the 14-meal-a-week option. Members sign up for two-hour cooking shifts once a week, or for cleaning shifts, or to pick up CSA boxes, shop, or bake bread or desserts. They’ve had a lot of guests—professors and friends of members—and during Beloit’s parents’ weekend they had a family meal. Tomorrow night they’re cooking for the cross-country team in advance of a big meet.
Members have, it’s true, eaten a lot of squash lately, because the co-op’s menu is contingent on what the CSA supplies. “I can’t complain,” said Kate Parson. “We’ve never had a bad meal.”