Friday, October 28, 2016

How to Start a Vegan Cookbook Club

Looking for a fun way to expand both your collection of recipes and your network of neighborhood friends? You should create or join a cookbook club!

A cookbook club is essentially a hybrid of a book club and a potluck. Periodically, the group chooses a cookbook and each member selects one recipe from the book to cook and share at the next meeting. During the meeting, members discuss their opinions and experiences using the cookbook over a potluck meal.

Last May, I was inspired by an article on to start a vegan cookbook club here in Hastings on Hudson. In just a few months, the club has become quite popular. Over a dozen couples participated in our most recent meeting!

We are learning healthy, novel, and ethnically diverse ways of preparing food. We are making new friends with people who just moved to town, while also getting to know our long-time neighbors better. We are having long, interesting conversations and sharing resources about more than just food. We are talking about childcare, relationships, local politics, business openings, our new projects, local services, etc. All the kind of stuff you that makes it easier and more fun to live in a community.

I think every town could benefit from a cookbook club. If you can't find an existing club near you, here's how you can easily start one in your community.

See if there's interest.
Throw out the idea of a vegan cookbook club to your friends-- either on social media or in person. Once you have even four friends excited and willing to come to the first meeting, you've got a platform.

Invite people to join the club.
To keep it intimate, create a private Facebook group. Add friends who said they're interested in the club. Ask those excited friends to add their friends. (It's polite to get a friend's permission before adding them to the FB group.) If your crowd is not on Facebook, use Google Groups to connect members over email instead.

Don't just invite vegans and vegetarians. Invite folks who are veg-curious, interested in cooking, wanna get healthy, or just love to socialize. Our group includes people with all kinds of dietary preferences.

To open the group to complete strangers (instead of just friends and friends-of-friends), create a public Facebook group or a Meetup group. For your safetly, do not do this if meetings are going to be held in member's homes! Contact a local library, church, gallery, or community center to see if they'd be willing to let you use their space for meetings. Use Canva to make printable flyers and web images to promote the group, then post them around town (library, post office, cafe, church, laundromat, supermarket, yoga studio, etc) and online.

Create your first meeting.
Once you've promoted the group and got a good base of interested people, it's time to create the first meeting.  To create a meeting, you need to choose three things:

As the organizer of the group, you should be prepared and open to the idea of hosting the first meeting, either at your home or in a public venue.

You could be super democratic and try to choose a book, time, and place that suits all or a majority of members. Facebook lets you post polls on your group page, so that'd be a good way to manage those tasks. Outside of Facebook, you can poll members using Doodle to schedule a time.

The Hastings on Hudson Vegan Cookbook Club has lots of members with different schedules (single people, SAHM, professionals who commute into the city, etc) so we don't do that. Any member can volunteer to host a meeting, which gives her the option to pick the book and host it in her home when it's convenient for her. We also let each host decide if kids and/or spouses are welcome. (The default is No Kids for obvious reasons.)

We have conversations on the group page about cookbooks we're excited about, which makes it easier for the host to choose. We also try to only choose books that are available at the public library for those of us who want to save money and shelf space (and only invest in books once we know we can't live without them, which is something that this book club helps you figure out).

Books our club has focused on include: The Oh She Glows Cookbook, Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen, and Vegan World Fusion Cuisine.

Instead of a cookbook, you can also choose a theme. The theme of our first meeting was simple: Favorite Vegan Cookbook. Everyone brought their go-to vegan cookbook and a dish prepared from a recipe in the book. In October, the meeting theme was Fall Favorites. Themes are a good way to be exposed to a wider variety of cookbooks. Another twist is to choose a vegan blog to cook recipes from. When we hosted the Oh She Glows potluck, people made recipes from the book, the blog, and the app.

Once you've got all that sorted out, create a Facebook event for your group or send the details out to your email group. If you're using FB, it helps to tag members in a post on the event page, so that they don't miss it.

Prepare for the meeting.
Host puts out beverages, dining ware, napkins, etc. (A buffet server, warming tray, and/or crock-pot, are useful for keeping food warm so definitely put that stuff out if you have it.) The host also makes a copy of the featured cookbook available for guests to refer to during the meeting.

Creating dining room for a large group can be a challenge in a small space, but it's totally possible. Check out these 15 tips for hosting a dinner party in a small apartment.

Each guest or couple brings a dish and a serving utensil. It's also helpful to bring some way to label/display what the dish is. (You could use an official food display sign or just fold an index card in half to create a sign.) Bring eco-friendly containers for leftovers too ;-)

Enjoy the meeting.
Guests set up their dishes together in the kitchen when they arrive. Once everyone is there, people introduce themselves and say what they brought. Everyone makes a plate. People sit together to eat, talk about the book, talk about cooking, and get to know each other better. It's really fun!

Plan the next meeting.
During or right after a meeting is the best time to pick a book and inspire someone to host the next meeting. Aim to have at least one meeting each month, but don't be too rigid. Pick a frequency that works for your group to maximize fun and minimize burnout.

Would you participate in a vegan cookbook club or another kind of cookbook club? Do you already do something like this in your neighborhood?

Olivia Lovejoy is a Blogger, Green Living Educator, and Health Coach trained at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She's also author of Baking Soda & Bliss: The Healthy & Happy Guide to Green Cleaning.   

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