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Brown Bag Co-op
by Joellen Craft '05

Upperclassmen enjoy flexibility of new "cook at home" co-op

Jessie Perlik '04 is a cashier at the BBC store.

"Cooking for yourself is an important skill to take away from college," says senior Alyson Dame—all the more reason why she and classmates Maggie Raife and Brian Schundler toiled last summer to get Oberlin's newest and most innovative co-op up and running.

Brown Bag Co-op (BBC), which open-ed in the fall, operates on many of the same principles as the traditional co-ops in its buying and acquiring of food and supplies. But rather than prepare their daily meals together, members instead receive allowances to buy food at the BBC store in Fairchild Co-op, which they then take to their own homes to cook. In return, students work two hours each week in the BBC store and meet once a week for a meal prepared in the traditional co-op manner.

Discussions about starting such a co-op began in 2002 with little student response. So Raife and fellow co-oper Phil Larimer '03, reworked its mission by focusing more on the needs of upperclassmen. Approval was granted and an interest list formed last spring; by September the co-op had met its 45-member capacity. BBC's flexibility appeals to older students' complex social networks and academic schedules. The more labor-intensive co-ops—which require four to six hours of work each week—are perceived as better suited to freshmen and sophomores, who tend to seek out the community and good food.

"The two hours at the BBC is a very manageable amount of work," says senior Jessie Perlik. "I'm a cashier. It's fun—it's like playing store. I get to hit a lot of buttons."

As a former member of both Keep and Old Barrows, Perlik has been intimately involved with the living and dining aspects of co-op life. She says "time and social flexibility" were her main reasons for switching to the BBC. Part of its appeal, she says, is that it offers an alternative dining service that's responsive to individual needs.

"By ordering products besides macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles, the BBC creates an opportunity for some students to widen their culinary horizons," she says. "Soon, we will begin offering recipe suggestions to members as they shop."

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