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Commune Cookbooks

In studies of hippies and the commune culture, many people do not see the significance of food to commune life. Yet "food was inseparable from, or at least coincident with, the most closely held values of commune residents, who tried to live what they believed through what they ate, how they grew or got their food, and how they divided the labor." Even as one of the simplest seeming elements of daily life, it was one of the most central. The way that hippies living on communes chose to cook and eat is representative of how they chose to live as a whole. When typical consumer culture was buying into highly processed and commercialized brands, the commune culture was going back to the land and attempting to eat local, healthy, untouched foods. In the same way that other tenets of hippie life helped to open the mind, a return to natural foods and cooking brought communards closer to the spiritual awakening that they desired. "Those who went 'back to the land' saw communal subsistence farming as a way to recognize our place within nature alongside plants and animals, rather than at the top of the food chain... an agrarian society seemed to promise a more rooted existence, one both more satisying and less compromised by entanglements with capitalist America." 

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Keeping in mind the goal of the commune to make mainstream society think more about how it was living, many hippies began to use their beliefs on food and subsistence as ways to reach a broader audience. At the onset of the communes, their cookbooks were particular for each community and purely for personal use, teaching the individual members how to prepare dishes that aligned with the commune values. However, the 1970s brought a more focused light to the food of the commune, and cookbooks such as Country Commune Cooking and The Moosewood Cookbook became popular across communes and in mainstream society. These commune cookbooks praised simple ingredients and cooking methods, and yet were incredibly diversified. "By dismantling the nuclear family household, communes made possible all kinds of culinary cross-fertilization, which helped to break up the centrist hold on cuisine." 

The Country Commune Cookbook, published in 1972, perhaps set the mold for this kind of diversified cooking reference. According to author Lucy Horton, "eating, not sex, was the activity at the center of communal life." Of course, this was always a challenge. Cooking a mass meal for a large commune was no simple undertaking. Commune cookbooks therefore became the ultimate guides in teaching members how to maintain these goals and still feed a crowd. "They were so much more than cookbooks. They were a way of being in the world." Horton published the cookbook based on her experience visiting 45 different communes and collecting recipes. Instructions for stews, soups and casseroles abound, many including love as a necessary ingredient.

The Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977, came later than Country Commune Cooking, but has had more of a sustained influence. By far the most successful of the counterculture cookbooks, Moosewood taught readers primarily vegetarian and sustainable recipes that could be cooked with these simple methods. In their return to the earth, the members of communes became proponents of these seemingly basic foods. Katzen's recipes for things such as poppyseed cake and lentil stew reflect the attempt to live off the land. When Katzen decided to publish the cookbook, she had already acquired a vast array of recipes and cooking methods uniquely suited to the hippie lifestyle. She has since published many other books and even her early works before the official Moosewood Cookbook inspired the creation of a Moosewood restaurant in New York in 1973. 

Despite the uniqueness present in both cookbooks and the statements that they inherently make about the communard lifestyle, both of these include recipes which attempt to recreate with more natural ingredients some favorites of mainstream culture. This again shows the balance that intentional communities tried to achieve between their desire for a new life and the ease of the world they had left behind.