group of people sitting on outdoor stairs
Credit: Andria Lo
The Way We Eat

“People Joke That Our House Is a Hippie Disaster.” What It’s Like to Live (and Eat) with 6 Adult Roommates During a Pandemic.

updated Jul 11, 2020
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Name: Phil Narodick
Location: Berkeley, CA
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 7; Phil, his wife Johanna, and five friends.
Avoidances: The house eats a largely vegan diet.

Phil Narodick, his wife Johanna, and their five other roommates between the ages of 30 and 35 all live under one roof in Berkeley, California in a house named Fallopia (more on that later). Co-op living arrangements like this one are not as rare as you might think — especially in the Bay Area, where soaring rent prices render most other options inaccessible and unattainable. Rent-splitting perks aside, Phil says he wouldn’t want it any other way.

We caught up with Phil to talk about their house’s beloved nickname, why there’s essentially a 50+ person waitlist to live there, their not-so-secret garden, and the ins and outs of living in a co-op during a pandemic.

Credit: Andria Lo

First off, how did this whole living situation come to be?
When my wife and I bought the house four years ago, we wanted one with a lot of bedrooms we could turn into a group home. As an adult, I’ve always lived in big group houses. It’s pretty common in the San Francisco area because rent prices are so expensive. I personally really enjoy it and it’s not something we do just out of necessity.

Originally we moved in with all people we were friends with, but every six months to a year someone will move out because life is taking them other places. We refill those spots with friends of friends, or distant people, or people from online co-op living lists. It’s quite a process to live here. Usually when we post an opening we will get 50+ applications. We interview a small group of those applicants, and then it’s consensus based on who we ultimately choose.

Does your house feel a little more full than usual right now?
With seven people, seven chickens, two dogs, and a cat, it’s a full house. Of those seven people, five of us are working from home full-time, including myself, so we’re definitely … not lacking for social contact. It’s kind of a party.

Credit: Andria Lo

Oh yes, so right after we moved in, we had kind of a “barn raising” chicken coop building endeavor. We currently have seven chickens, but we’ve had as many as nine. Right now they’re laying probably five to six eggs a day which is a game-changer for me — to feel good about consuming an animal product. Let’s see, a couple of them have names, but not all of them. There’s Flopsy, Ashanti, and Trish from HR (who is named for an actual woman I worked with named Trish, from HR, who gave me consent to name the chicken after her).

Credit: Andria Lo

What’s the story behind the house name?
A lot of our friends’ houses have names. It just makes it feel more like a community. So we spent a really long time brainstorming. My wife, Johanna, is a midwife, so we came up with the word “Fallopia.” We all really liked it because it made it sound less like a frat house.

Is it sheer chaos?
So the five people that live with us are all friends in their 30s. We are all professionals, but people joke that our house is a hippie disaster. Someone at work will ask how many people I live with and I can’t give a straight answer because someone’s partner will be staying over. I’m like, “Well, seven or eight?” And they’ll look at me weird.

Credit: Andria Lo

Has quarantine changed anything?
It’s been tricky, because living with so many people gives you a little bit less control over who’s in your bio-pod. We have a few people with partners who live outside of the house; one is in another group house. So they’re saying they’re not getting together with other people, but who knows.

What are the pros and cons?
There are lots of pros. I’m an extrovert, so I love being surrounded by a community, having folks around, and living with friends. That far outweighs the cons. Although the main con is that I live with my wife in the house with just one other couple. It can be hard to have relationship disagreements without there being an audience I guess. Other cons? Someone will leave a dish unwashed. Or our cat will poop on someone’s bed.

Credit: Andria Lo

Does everyone have the same food preferences?
I generally consider myself vegan, although I do eat the eggs from the chickens that we keep. Overall, I would say that everyone in the house is really conscious about what we eat. We try to buy organic produce where we can. We get a large CSA box every week. Creativity loves constraint, so the one person who likes to cook up a storm all the time said she likes the challenge. If there’s a non-vegan component to the dinner it will be off to the side, or there will be two versions of the same dinner.

Other cons? Someone will leave a dish unwashed. Or our cat will poop on someone’s bed.

What’s the grocery/food-sharing situation?
There’s a common understanding that everything in the fridge, cabinets, and pantry is to share among everybody unless it has your name on it. We live about a half mile from arguably the best grocery store in the world: Berkeley Bowl. It’s like, the main tourist attraction in Northern CA. We tried to do trips once a week, but that just wasn’t feasible, so now we go a couple times a week. Some recurring items are cashew yogurt, regular yogurt, trail mix, bulk beans of all sorts, flour, tofu, tempeh, cabbage, milk, coffee, all the grains, a lot of hot sauces, and peanut butter. I actually get in trouble for draining the peanut butter a lot.

Right now, we’re all pretty into edible mushrooms here at Fallopia. I’m a pretty avid mushroom forager in the NorCal region (chanterelles in the winter, porcini in the fall spring and summer, morels in the spring and summer). We are at the absolute peak of the season for a surprisingly good morel and porcini season, so Berkeley Bowl is selling porcini for $15 a pound and morels for $10 a pound, which is ridiculously cheap, like buy-them-and-flip-them cheap. Lately we’ve been enjoying them several times a week due to the embarrassment of riches.

Credit: Andria Lo

How do you split the costs?
We put the total on Splitwise, which automatically calculates how much people owe. It’s a little tricky because there are different incomes in the house, so we only split the cost of basic stuff. If someone buys a certain beer that they like or, say, fancy mushrooms, they put their name on it.

What does dinnertime look like at Fallopia?
Our quaran-team has been cooking up a vegan storm. I would say our jam right now is Instant Pot rice, plus veggies from our CSA, and tofu or some sort of non-meat. Generally one person will cook dinner for the entire house each night. It’s on a volunteer basis — we use Slack to coordinate. We’ve been having a lot of fun dinners in our backyard lately.

Credit: Andria Lo

What about the cleaning part? That’s a lot of dishes.
We have a house meeting once a month to talk about minutiae around house rules. We discuss little things like, “Do we group all the forks together on the silverware rack in the dishwasher?” Sometimes we will call a cleaning service, but overall we do a pretty good job of keeping our house clean ourselves.

We do three different types of composting. The first is the compost that’s in a tumbler that generates soil meant to use in our garden. If it’s something that’s chicken digestible, we will feed the chickens with it — they love a lot of different things from our compost. And anything that can’t go to either of those will go to the city compost. It’s cool because they redistribute that back once a month and will put a huge pile in the park that you can come take for free.

Credit: Andria Lo

You must have a very happy garden!
We grow so many things. My favorite things to grow are lemon cucumbers. We also grow corn, sugar snap and snow peas, beans, eggplants, squash, lettuce, chard, kale, collards, potatoes. Side note: I grew up in Seattle and more than 30 years ago, my grandpa planted potatoes in my parents’ garden before he died. They’ve been coming back every year. This year, my parents brought one of the potatoes here when they visited and now they’re growing here!

I also made this chute of tomato plants that people walk through. My goal is to have enough tomatoes that people feel empowered to pick them. Homegrown and home-cooked food is what bonds our chosen family. It’s what gets us into the same room each night. 

Thanks for sharing, Phil!

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.