Communal food at Steward Wood

Community members do make different food choices, and while we all love nutritious tasty food some of us would define this in a slightly different way to others! This may sound a little strong, but I think it’s true to say that for all members, our food choices are for all of us expressions of deeply held philosophies. We nevertheless share wonderful communal food.

The rationale (and story behind) communal food management at Steward Wood:

When the community was established on the land in 2000 it was an entirely vegan community: no animal products to be brought onto the land. At least one shared mealtime per day was seen as important for maintaining a healthy community, and eating alone was discouraged. The community’s kitchen facilities were entirely shared – initially nobody had a ‘personal’ kitchen.

Within the intervening years, many founder members have moved on and other people have become members. The majority of us are now not vegan – we instead now represent a range of different eating habits and beliefs, all of which (in the holder’s view) environmentally, ethically and spiritually justifiable! You can imagine that this issue would have the potential to become an emotive and involved debate. A further debate has come up regarding UK and overseas food.

A community decision was made in 2006 that members should be able to eat whatever they wanted to in their own living structures; most community members now have their own kitchen space within their dwellings. Communal indoor and outdoor space remains vegetarian and all communal meals are vegan and nearly 100% organic.  It was decided however in 2011 that people could use local eggs and dairy in communal spaces and milk from a local farm is bought for visiters should they require it. Over autumn and winter 2008 we experimented by buying only British fresh produce communally. This has made us aware of our reliance on food from other countries - while it was initially very easy (we began during the height of the English fruit and vegetable glut) it became more difficult over winter. (If/when Britain needs to become self-sufficient we will find spring the hardest time of year - the stored food has all been eaten and the only plant food available fresh will be certain wild greens and whatever we've grown in polytunnels.) The community has since returned to buying fresh produce sourced from European countries, bearing in mind the lessons we've learned. I'd like to write a separate discussion of this issue for the website as I think it'll be very important in the future.

We produce our own food (for details see the Growing page) but do not meet our needs, although we aspire to. So we all contribute to the ‘food kitty’, enabling us to buy organic fruit and vegetables and basic plant-based wholefoods in bulk from local wholesalers. Where possible we choose products that are locally sourced. This avoids the use of supermarkets, supports the local economy and drastically reduces packaging. Other food – snacks and non-vegan staples – is bought individually from local shops in Moreton and health food shops in Exeter.

Communal meals are still enjoyed. During the weeks of hosting WWOOFers we have a rota and members volunteer to cook breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the main kitchen. Dinner in particular is often shared by the whole community plus WWOOFers and guests, so cooking it can be quite a big operation, sometimes requiring separate catering for allergies or raw-food eaters. Outside of WWOOFing weeks, communal meals are sometimes planned and sometimes just happen; cooking and eating food together is a sociable activity and does contribute to a healthy community.

Being able to make your own food choices seems to be an important part of feeling comfortable and unpressurised within the community. We agree that the communal meals are vegan and where possible communal catering should be organic, and these rules are respected. We also consciously try not to judge each other’s choices during our day-to-day contact (although some fairly long-drawn out debates have occurred during social occasions!). We share important values, which include always trying to source food locally, and that if you make the choice to take an animal’s life for food, it must be done with respect and nothing wasted.

Author: Chris 2009, with apologies to author of ‘Meal times in the woods’, 2000 - edited by Merlin, Feb 2011

Last updated: 2011-02-28

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