Wash, peel, chop, simmer, whisk, stir, mix, fry, bake, talk, teach, learn, invent, relax, share, taste, and connect…
Sound like a good way to spend your Sunday afternoons?
A project called the People’s Kitchen has come up with a recipe for successful social interaction in Dalston. Every Sunday a banquet created from surplus food donated by local suppliers is put on at Passing Clouds and other local venues.
The Dalston kitchen is entirely run by volunteers. Chef Steve Wilson started the kitchen in 2010 at Passing Clouds.
Volunteers arrive early afternoon and get to work preparing a vegetarian meal, where up to eighty people sit together and tuck into the big feast later on in the evening. These meals are open to all and there is only a suggested donation. The fact it is open to all, in my opinion, avoids any danger of potentially patronising marginalised people.
Aside from the obvious benefits of raising awareness about food wastage, one of the most important aspects of this social experiment in human interaction is that a bunch of strangers can get together and they don’t even need a common language as the cooking speaks for itself.
“We are getting less and less space where people who are strangers can be themselves and because it’s cooking you don’t even need English. Cooking together is quite personal and eating together is quite bonding. I also like how simple it is and how it should happen everywhere, “ says Kiran Chahal, current coordinator.
Money donated on Sundays at meals (which varies in amount week by week!) is put straight back into the project and spent mostly on: dry goods (rice, pasta, beans etc.), seating and kitchen equipment.
Obtaining the food, Kiran says, is the easy part. Local businesses are charged by the council to have surplus food taken away, while People’s Kitchen is happy to collect it free of charge. The harder part is finding enough volunteers to collect and deliver the food by bicycle, organising cooking, setting up the venue for mealtimes, and clearing up afterwards.
Volunteer chef Henrik Eckhardt, from Germany, says: “We have something similar in Germany. It’s great to cook and eat with other people and to use old food which normally goes to the rubbish. People come who are normally not cooking. Here they have a chance to meet new people. They are really nice here.”
People’s Kitchen will be starting a new project over the next month on a local council estate, the Kingsmead in Hackney. Funding has been applied for from Hackney Council. In exchange for cooking lessons, residents of the Kingsmead will volunteer their time to cook and serve community meals. Hopefully after six months, the kitchen will have set down strong enough foundations to become fully self-sufficient.
To find out more visit their website
Article by Seb Taylor