Dinner on the River Campus always seems like a rush. Grab a salad at the Pit and it’s right back up to Periodical Reading Room to study for an Orgo test. It seems like that’s the norm for young families at home as well. Soccer practices, trumpet lessons and the occasional ballet recitals leave only Sunday as a family night around the kitchen table.
But at the EcoHouse there’s a different vibe. For the seven residents, house dinners are a daily occurrence. The clanging of plates, the strong scent of Lentil Loaf meat loaf without the meat, the dinner menu is vegan and political debates leaning a little to the left all encompass the daily dinner. (The table was deemed garbage by the staff in Wilson Commons a few years ago until a few resourceful EcoHouse residents saved it).
I sat down as a dinner guest at the EcoHouse kitchen table on Tuesday with a few familiar faces and a few new ones. Just off the corner of Genessee Park and Genessee Street across the river, the EcoHouse residents strive to live in an environmentally conscious way. Current and former Grassroots members, among others, call the EcoHouse home. The family setting with a slow-paced conversation seemed a far distance from the grab-and-go pathway between the Pit and the PRR.
A home away from home.
The motivations for and the enjoyments of living in the EcoHouse seemed to be quite similar engaging conversations in a family-type atmosphere.
‘There’s a lot of serious discussion about politics and philosophy,” EcoHouse resident and junior Lubaba Hasan said. ‘It gets intense sometimes.”
Tuesday’s discussion was relatively light we debated the merits of Economics Professor Mike Rizzo’s lectures and discussed the waste of campus dining.
‘It’s just such a nice, open environment for whatever you think,” senior resident Miriam Moore, Tuesday night’s chef, added. The open environment hosts regular potluck dinners as well, with UR neighbors across the street and around the corner taking part.
The Kitchen Routine.
With seven residents, the cooking responsibilities divide up easily. Miriam’s Lentil Loaf on Tuesday was preceded by her vegan tacos last week. Over dinner, senior resident Trevor Kellogg planned his meal for Thursday.
‘Spaghetti and black bean balls,” he said. ‘I’m known for my beans.”
The shifts as master chef aren’t planned on a whim. A white board, covering one wall above the kitchen table, is complete with a grid labeling the days of the week and each resident’s nickname along with a certain code. ‘LP” means a late plate, ‘TP” means the meal goes right into the tupperware for a late meal and ‘+1″ means a resident is bringing home a guest for dinner. A blank square means you’ll be seated and ready to chow at 7 p.m.
The grid ensures that the chef cooks the proper amount. A last minute review session? No worries, as long as you e-mail the chef before 5:30 p.m., you’re in the clear. (Typically, guests are asked for a $2 donation, or even better, some sort of food item).
The Meal Plan.
Akin to a meal plan on campus, the Eco House offers a meal plan. People who live outside the house are welcome to pay for monthly food costs and share the nightly meals. Last semester, there weretwo nonresidents on the meal plan.
‘Really anyone could be on our meal plan,” Miriam added. ‘A vegan on campus who wanted options, or an eco-friendly student could join our meal plan.
Eco House residents have to live up to their residence’s name. But you won’t find any solar panels attached to their roof on Genessee Street.
But its the small habits and routines that make the difference. Before dinner, I spilled water on the table. With no paper towels in the house, I grabbed a dish rag to clean up the spill. The house also uses eco-friendly cleaning supplies.
A compost sits in the backyard, although the food scraps are still looking for a home.
The food is often bought in bulk. Weekly shopping visits include stops at the Public Market, Wegmans and Abundance, the eco-friendly version of Costco on Monroe Avenue where you can buy in bulk.
The EcoHouse, which was founded in 2003, changes its residents frequently. The house has different residents every school year and houses different summer residents as well. But all of the furniture and cooking utensils remain.
Dinner on Tuesday night was a blast; I’ll be back again for sure. The atmosphere was great and the dinner conversation was lively. The cozy kitchen, coupled with thought-provoking discussions makes home seem not so far away.
‘Some people tell me “Oh you are going home for the weekend, you’re getting a home-cooked meal,” senior resident Trevor Kellogg said. ‘I get a home-cooked meal every night.”
Willis is a member of the class of 2011.