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Vegetarian Co-op Conflict

The bottom floor of the Queen Anne Hall dormitory (QA) is where the “fringier communist hippie people” of St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) eat, according to a characterization from former Vegetarian Cooperative (Co-op) President Teri Koster, ‘13.

The Co-op is an alternative arrangement for students looking to eat meat-free diets at a fraction of the price of the Great Room.

Though it’s touted on the SMCM website as “another great option for students who need dietary accommodations,” it has been the subject of debates dating back to at least 2012. Fissures between the Co-op and both their fellow residents of QA and SMCM administrators have ensued.  

Students apply to become members of the Co-op. If accepted they pay dues each semester to buy into a family-style meal plan, shopping, cooking, eating and sharing chores together. According to the group’s mission statement, they “are a community that strives to maintain sustainable and local food practices based on collective values by cooking in a peaceful and democratic space where creativity and respect of individual [meatless] dietary needs or choices are promoted as a family that eats each others’ food and pretends that it was good.”

But the Co-op has faced criticism, by their own concession sometimes rightly so, and threats of being shut down from the Office of Residence Life (Res-Life).

Koster was the president of the Co-op for three semesters. She told The Point News (TPN) in an email that she perceived animosity from Res-Life when she took the reins of the organization in 2012. According to Koster, the SMCM administrator in charge of Res-Life at the time, Joanne Goldwater “had issues with ANY way we managed money, and came up with ZERO ways to solve these problems [emphasis Koster’s].”

Koster says that issues arose with the financial accounts of the Co-op. She says that the group was not allowed to have SMCM nor a student name on their bank account which they use to purchase groceries, allocating them no options. Such seems to have been resolved, alas new disagreements have arisen.

The Co-op’s current president, Lizzie Schack, told TPN that their struggles have been with maintaining an ample number of members and sharing space with the residents of QA.

Schack says that some people living in QA resent the Co-op. Residents of QA are “willing to blame us for their unfortunate living conditions,” Schack said via email. She points out potential grievances such as the fact that “the QA kitchen is particularly small because space is taken up by the [C]o-op … they have to use a mostly/completely broken stove even though there is a working one right behind the locked [C]o-op door, and … we make everything smell like frying garlic.”

When asked about the relationship between the residences and the Co-op, QA Residence Hall Coordinator Anna Taflan, ‘19, told TPN “since the [C]o-op is situated in the common area of the building, it interferes very little with day to day resident life.”

However, current residents of QA, which houses predominately underclassmen, say that the Co-op creates an undue burden, suggesting that they bring pests in. Schack concedes that “the [C]o-op has been notoriously dirty for the [last] decade or so … we also do have a lot of food stored in the [C]o-op, so if food gets left out regularly, we do attract cockroaches from other parts of the building.”

Schack says that an exterminator told the College that, “the [C]o-op is not the source of the roaches!”

Ben Derlan, 2017 Co-op co-president, says that the group stuck to a cleaning regiment, replaced several appliances, and complied with all instructions to have the kitchen fumigated.  “After winter break, we discovered that the building was not fumigated but merely sprayed; and cockroaches persisted,” Derlan said via email. He continued to say that the Co-op was not the only group to blame for the pests. According to him, SMCM did not do enough to help the Co-op with the issue of pests. “In effect, the [C]o-op is a tenant of the school; the same things expected of a landlord-tenant agreement should be expected in this situation.”

Such, according to Schack, has led some to see the Co-op as “too much hassle for too little benefit.” She says that “every so often, the [C]o-op gets an ultimatum” from Res-Life. She says there are “especially intense periods in the ongoing hostile treatment of the [C]o-op by [R]es-[L]ife” when they are told to “fix this thing or we’re shutting down the [C]o-op.”

Most recently, the Co-op had far too few members. Incoming presidents of the Co-op, Anna Sawyer, ‘20, and Christina Miller, ‘19, say that they met and exceeded their quota for the upcoming semester, with 15 members. Sawyer says that the two of them “are super pumped about revamping the Co-op for the fall semester, and we’re planning on implementing more sustainable practices in the [C]o-op. We’ll be having weekly family dinner next year, and are very excited about what next year has to offer.”

Neither Director of Residence Life Derek Young nor Goldwater, the previous director of Residence Life, responded to TPN’s request for comment before our print deadline.

 

(Photo Courtesy of SMCM Vegetarian Co-op Facebook Page)

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