Monday, July 5, 2010


Barter trade was the norm for meeting the needs of human beings before the advent of modern currency system. Ancient trading between nations involved export of goods available in plenty in one county in exchange for some thing else from another country which are not in demand in the exporting country. The evaluation of goods was more based on the past experience, demand factor and the quantity offered. With the global trade being regulated by WTO and commodity prices determined by the modern supply-demand concept, international export-import regimes use strong currencies like US Dollar or Euro of the EU for value determination. How can such a concept be relevant to "trading in dinner"?

Food cooperatives have been known to exist in some countries basically to ensure supply of foods which are not not freely available in some areas. The cooperative organization is based on members who subscribe to become members besides offering voluntary services for cutting down on overheads. There are cooperative organizations engaged in cultivation of agricultural and horticultural crops by pooling their land and other input resources. The surplus generated out of the sale of the harvested commodities is shared amongst the members. Amul is the most visible symbol of success of the cooperative movement in India as it is made of cooperative milk producers' unions at the village level. National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) used the Amul model successfully across the country for ushering in the white revolution under the Operation Flood program and making the country the top producer of fluid milk in the world. That NDDB had limited success in repeating this feat with edible oils and horticulture production and marketing is another matter. Probably cooperative movement in food sector has been hijacked by the politicians to serve their own selfish interest.

In recent times the success of maize cultivation in southern Karnataka pioneered by the Tibetan refuge settlements speaks itself regarding the viability of cooperatives which requires self belief, fellowship feelings, hard work and collective efforts for the good of the community. If Karnataka has overtaken Gujarat as the leading producer of Maize it is largely due to the cooperative venture of Tibetans. In the same state growers cooperatives formed about 5 decades ago for organized growing of Coorg Orange and Pineapple failed miserably because of petty politics practiced by some of the members. Now that land ceiling regulations and land ownership rules are being changed it should be possible for large industrial investors to go for organized farming over large stretches of land or lease out land for high tech production of agricultural crops. Contract cultivation is another avenue, though it is not strictly a cooperative venture, for ensuring easy flow of raw materials to the processing industry.

A cooking co-operative is different in concept and may be seen as a dinner swap amongst families, especially high concentration city dwellings. It is simply an agreement by two or more individuals or households to provide prepared meals for each other as per an agreed schedule, the objective being reduced time spent in the kitchen and increased quality and variety of the food eaten. This not a brand new idea, as such entities did exist for some time though with a lesser visibility. Many dinner co-ops function in apartment buildings in high density population centers and members of the co-ops, made up of several households regularly exchange meals weekly or bi-weekly depending on the life style and inclination of the members. For example once a week, one family can cook a dish, enough to provide at least one serving for each adult member of the co-op. Around the same time, the fellow co-op members would cook large batches of their chosen dishes. After setting aside a portion for self consumption, rest is divided, packaged in reusable containers and labeled with reheating conditions. Members then gather and swap dishes, each walking away with a variety of meals for the coming week's dinners. Such a system is prevalent more in hostels in some of the Universities where students enjoy cooking facilities and regularly swap dishes according to a defined menu and periodicity.

A time may come when apartment complexes would be designed with provision for such dinner cooperatives as families start realizing the advantages of such mutually beneficial swapping mode of sharing dinner that has the potential to reduce cost of family food and improve the overall health of the community. How ever unlike western families, Indians have diverse taste and flavor preferences and forming such co-ops may not be that easy. Added to this is the vertical divide between vegetarians and meat eaters that makes the task much more difficult. Still the concept may still succeed in some of the metros where distinction between ethnic foods is getting increasingly blurred.


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