I only knew one member of 2 Dickinson Street, the vegetarian co-op also known as 2D, when I signed up for a meal, though I didn’t know him that well. I didn’t know anyone from my year joining next year, as my friends and I had all joined clubs or went independent. When someone sent a signup link through WhitmanWhire to visit 2D, I put my name down, out of curiosity, for a free vegetarian meal not from a dining hall. I had passed by the place a number of times walking up University Place. The well-maintained brown Victorian home never seemed to be the site of a messy bacchanal—I usually saw people sitting at tables or on the porch talking and doing homework with warm yellow light emanating from the interior. The night of my scheduled dinner, I received an email with the information of my host. He would be cooking that night, and that meant I would be too.
At 5:30 I walked up to the front door and knocked. No answer. I didn’t see any movement inside but my nose caught wafts of garlic and onion cooking in olive oil. I went to the side door to the kitchen, and my host immediately welcomed me in. There were six people in the kitchen, cooking for an expected crowd of about 48 members. My host was busy cubing tofu to later sauté with garlic and scallions. Another member was making quinoa patties, another was focused on putting together a frittata-like Spanish tortilla, and another was busy coring apples and stuffing them with nuts, butter, and brown sugar before baking. Another girl was making ice cream—chocolate peanut butter and lemon sorbet. Together they bantered and joked across the counters and four industrial-sized stoves. One girl wasn’t talking much at all. In a massive wok almost as high as her shoulders, she was concentrating intensely on her dish of butternut squash, tomato, mushrooms, soy sauce (“for meatiness”), and paprika, adding ingredients like a mad scientist and mixing it all together with a wooden spoon the size of an oar.
After chopping a clove of garlic to add to various dishes, I helped a girl I recognized from one of my classes chop some vegetables for her fried rice. It was her first time cooking there, too, as she had just joined the co-op as a second semester senior. She had tired of cooking for herself and writing her thesis at the same time. We talked for a while about our classes and discovered we shared the same major. We finished chopping the vegetables and she went on to put together her rice. No one else needed help, and without a task at hand, I set about to browse the kitchen.
In the refrigerators I found deep tubs of hummus, twelve gallons of soymilk, cartons of eggs and butter, 25 pounds of carrots, twenty pounds of mushrooms, and a Brita filter labeled “Nikhil’s Vodka.” After sniffing the contents I found the filter was no longer filled with vodka but water, as Nikhil, once a grad student at 2D, left to focus on his dissertation. On the pantry shelves sat cardboard boxes containing 50 pounds of onions and potatoes, 35 pounds of butternut squash, 50 avocadoes, and boxes filled to the brim with fresh garlic and ginger root. Various oils and vinegars had an entire shelf to their own. On the floor underneath the shelves were buckets labeled chickpea flour, pumpernickel flour, bread flour, “Marxist” oats, and “Totalitarian” oats. Each bucket at one point contained 25 pounds of tofu, and around the kitchen I counted 32 buckets now used to contain other things, meaning that 800 pounds of tofu had been consumed over the last few years. “That’s only a fraction,” said my friend in the co-op when I later mentioned this to him.
At 6:30 dinner was ready, and a crowd was hovering around the door to the kitchen, ready to serve themselves. After everyone had piled their plates high with vegetarian fare, I sat at a circular table in the small dining room. The seating was slightly cramped, but intimate. Christmas lights, cookbooks, and drawings lined the walls, and on a corner shelf sat an antique radio and board games. I noticed the 2-D flag: a green quilt with a white artichoke in the center. I mentioned to the table that it resembled the Ivy club sweatshirts. “Ivy gets into the mortar of buildings and destroys them,” said a guy sitting at my table, “Artichokes are useful.” 2-D also has a journal of jokes and notes written by members. One page is taken up entirely by fake passes, each with a black artichoke in the center.
Unlike the eating club system, which 2-D members frequently make fun of (often rightfully), dues for membership at 2-D are $550 a semester. Social dues, just fifteen dollars. Though sign-in clubs aim to ameliorate exclusivity on campus, they don’t always work for everyone. Dues are still over $8000, and not everyone is comfortable with club cultures and traditions. Though 2-D lacks this kind of exclusivity, it has a tiny capacity. It is so small because only so many people can cook at once, and the students don’t have time to cook all day to prepare a dinner for over a hundred people. Every night, five or six people set aside their work to focus on cooking a meal to feed others, sharing conversation and taking part in the ritual of making food that many of us rarely experience here. I left the meal feeling as though I had done a favor to my body by staying away from the excess and monotony of the dining halls, and away from the eating club system that I perhaps bought into too readily. Eating at Two Dickinson Street didn’t feel like Princeton.