Part I

For a month or so I worked and pretty much lived with a group who called themselves an "anarchist kitchen", which is a bunch of people living outside capitalism and society in general (hence "anarchist"), serving a massive free meal to nearby homeless folk. They did the cooking in their big old 70s Winnebago, and travelled to a new city when they felt like it. I lived with them while they were docked in San Francisco.

They get their food by "panhandling" (as they put it) at the local farmer's markets. They go from vendor to vendor explaining that they are a free kitchen serving food to "homeless" people, and could they please spare any vegetables? Tony, who looks like a gutterpunk but is way too smart and motivated to sit on a sidewalk every day and "spange" (ask for spare change), approaches each vendor with a pitch honed from canvassing for Greenpeace and some PERG. He walks up to the monger with a serious look on his face (unusual for him), hands them a card which inexplicably reads "Certified Farmer's Market", and he meets their eyes and says, "I'm with the People's Kitchen. We cook food for the homeless people living in Golden Gate Park. I was wondering if we could work together on putting together a meal . . ." The mongers, who are mostly Asian, usually play their I-don't-speak-English card at this point. But all it takes are two or three vendors out of the thirty and we've got more vegetables than we can serve before they go bad. Five boxes overflowing. Eventually the problem isn't getting the vegetables, but finding boxes to put them in, as those are apparently more valuable. We get broccoli, baby eggplants, exotic peppers of all colors and shapes, a massive box full of juicing oranges, Russian kale, boxes of apples and persimmons, more grapes than I've ever seen, and so on.

Once, before they had my car and not wanting to use the Winnebago, they loaded a handtruck and seven boxes bursting and leaking vegetables on a public bus. Strategy: pay before loading anything on, so the driver can't refuse.

They do all this not in the spirit of charity, which they shun, but to show people that it's possible to work independently of the government and capitalism and still accomplish something. Which is to say that they do it to show that anarchism can work.

And Monday through Friday, each and every one of the five kitchen members are at work, cleaning, prepping, cooking, serving, and doing much miscellany. Work starts surprisingly sharply at 10am and finishes around 6 or 7 after every last bit of food is served and everything is clean. That's a 40+ hour week, for which they earn nary a cent. Trying to get the meal out by 4pm feels urgent as a newspaper deadline, with someone yelling every half hour or so, with a touch of panic in their voice, "Yo! What time is it?"

The meals themselves are unbelievably gourmet. There's no attitude of fuck 'em, they aren't paying for it. They make super tasty stews, maybe cornbread if they haven't scored any bagels lately, once making individually deep fried breaded eggplant slices. Usually they'll serve a soup, some sort of bread, and some fruit.

Their hygiene is a little on the lacking side: there's a water cooler full of bleach solution for "sterilizing" hands (a Rainbow Gathering trick), but it's mostly ornamental. Vegetables fall on the floor and are brushed off; at night the cutting boards serve as joint rolling tables, beer coasters and general party surfaces. When someone is sick they help cook anyway, albeit with a Jessie James bandanna over their mouth. They say they don't serve "dumpster food" on the grounds that "it's making the choice for a lot of people whether they want to eat from a dumpster." But I've seen them serve bread that I personally scored from a dumpster, not to mention tomatoes and lettuce.

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