(This was posted for my food blog UnReFiNeD so it`s very food-oriented)
As many of you know, Wall Street’s occupy movement reached Montreal and, along with many other cities, set into action on October 15th of last year. I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out but it gave me an opportunity to volunteer with Food Not Bombs-type organizations and to talk food politics with those at Square Victoria.
One the 14th I got together with a couple of other people and joined forces with a coop to dumpster dive and cook food for those involved with the movement. The next day, we biked in the freezing breeze to Square Victoria and began serving our food on a small table. I left shortly after and came back a week later, to find an amazing development: All the people and organizations that gathered, cooked, and served food joined forces to create the People’s Kitchen, a partially-enclosed area with cooking areas and Loads of food.
Excited, I put on some gloves and got to it! There was no real leader as the group of people working in the kitchen was never the same, which regularly complicated things. Wearing gloves had become a requirement but besides that almost anyone was allowed to volunteer in the kitchen. The tasks were: cut bread, prepare produce for dishes in mind, keep kitchen sanitary, cut bread, take care of dishes, serve food, cook food, stir slowly-heating soup for hours, cut bread, and take in and shelve donations. Did I mention cutting bread?
I loooved working in the kitchen, to the point where I once worked for a span of 11 hours in one day, and with barely any breaks! I spent 2-8 hours volunteering there when I went, usually starting in the afternoon until around closing time. When I was there, I lost track of time (and of the importance of staying hydrated…), and just went on and on – There was so much to do! Sometimes there was really not enough volunteers in the kitchen – At one time it was only me and another girl, both of us who were still kind of new to the kitchen, and her more than me, so I ended up taking over Everything, rushing between tasks to keep the kitchen going. I know I didn’t need to overwork myself, I was there freely giving free food, but I couldn’t help it. And it felt good. I had a purpose. Who knows what the kitchen would have looked like that afternoon if I hadn’t been there o.o. I guess people would have slowly made their way in to help themselves, which sometimes became a problem at night when the kitchen shut down. I think it silly that people were complaining that the kitchen shut down after 11pm (with bread and jam left out)… It was almost midnight! The kitchen can`t run 24hrs on a trinkle of tired and cold vonunteers! – Anyway. With time a sheet was run across after 11pm and between certain meal times to close it off more, and more people that had a better sense of what was happening would come by to make sure everything was alright.
And with time we started kitchen meetings to discuss problems (such as lack of space, troublesome activists, the homeless who took too much advantage of our kitchen, working in cold conditions, sanitary conditions, the inability to use big stoves and propane burners to cook food (ugh, what a Pain!!!), lack of volunteers, closing time and so on.
Dishes were quite the problem too. There was one older bearded man who was truly amazing because NO ONE wants to be in the dish pit, yet he was at it every day, scrubbing other`s dirty dishes in the cold, always ending up with frozen hands. He was usually frustrated too – I don`t blame him – Most people would just pile their dishes (that they had gotten at the People`s Kitchen with their free food) in the dish pit and leave it for some sucker to do. It wasn`t pleasant. Even I didn`t do my own dishes, but I think I only used 2 cups and a couple of plates and utensils the whole time I was there, plus I was always busy scurrying around in the kitchen… A big thank you to the dish pit regulars!
It was fun to get shouts of encouragement (and vice versa) from the coffee/tea tent infront of us, from the dishpit regulars, and from those receiving free food once in a while. It was fun coming in to see my favorite co-volunteers already there in the kitchen, doing their thing and chatting happily about whatever came to mind. It was fun to get sunlight once in a while (I swear it usually was just grey and cold and often rainy…), and it was fun to be treated to some special little desserts for our hard work once in a while. It was fun becoming a part of something big, something important, working together, learning, having fun… =)
As it got colder and colder I bundled up with lots of layers and my handmade kitty hat. The whole time I was there I never actually was the one to Make soups and whatnot on the propane burners (I never bothered to learn how to use them), but I did make some fancy tuna salad on crackers myself. I usually did major multi-tasking. Once in a while I’d bring home apples and oats to cook apple crisps for the People’s Kitchen, almost losing my baking pans in the process of retrieving them. I eventually invited Xavier to come volunteer with me and, although I know he’s not into this movement kind of thing, he came without hesitation, to help me and to cook. We had loads of fun, snacking on treats as we went along, grooving to music from the nearby drum circle (or keyboard. We once even had a choir come practice at Square Victoria!).
We usually served a mix of vegan and vegetarian dishes. Obviously we got a lot of donated ingredients and prepared food that had animal ingredients in them so we used those too. It got tricky to know what had what in it, and then to make sure everyone else in the kitchen knew – In a kitchen where the volunteers and the meals always changed! One time we had a man come in with a bunch of higher-quality hot dog sausages. He didn`t just donate them to us – He came in and took over the propane burners to cook them! I tried to keep a selection of raw fruits and vegan snacks always available on the table as I saw most of the other volunteers didn`t give a damn about the vegans at Square Victoria. At least we usually had various salads we`d make every day. The food we made was pretty healthy, but the desserts (besides things like baked cinnamon apples and fruit salads that we made) were donated by various people who bought or made them and their healthiness was a mixed bag. I got nibbles of all kinds of tasty neat things there!
The kitchen worked off of donations, and wow were we surprised with the amount of donations we got! Some people would bring food from their homes that they didn’t use. Others would buy what we needed (like peanut butter, oil, etc). Others, either from their homes or a little business they had running, would bring in food they made, the most coveted being hot food like soup, because it often got cold (and rainy) there, and we only had little propane burners to cook with. Sometimes people would bring over leftovers from meetings (think giant plates of appetizers and sandwhiches) and from the stores they worked at. One guy handed me a bunch of fresh bagels that were going to be thrown out of the bakery he worked at. Xavier and I were about to head out so we took a couple with us to eat when we got home. They were Berry infused bagels! Spread with cream cheese and berry jam, they were DIVINE! swear I still drool thinking about these. I still regret not asking the guy where they came from because they were just so good! I sometimes brought in my own dumpstered stuff for the kitchen, but these had to be labeled as such =P.
Near the end of October it started getting really cold. I was working on adrenaline and little reserves, in very cold conditions outside and with very little hydration. I eventually got sick, my sickness hitting its peak on Halloween night (booo!), and after then I didn’t go to the People’s Kitchen as much. Reasons being, I was out of town for a bit**,or I was preoccupied, and often I’d go there and the place was taken care of and they didn’t really need anyone at the time… bummer. I could have maybe squeezed myself in, but I never feel comfortable about doing that. I like to have something to do and to really be needed, not just standing around twidling my thumbs and getting “I don’t knows” to my “what can I do” question.
**I eventually went to Ottawa to do a couple of things, including check out Ottawa`s Occupy Montreal. While it was set in a beautiful big park, it dimmed in comparison to Montreal`s – The people were friendly, but a lot of them seemed to be there just to hang out with others and get drunk or do drugs. I asked if they had an information booth to inform passersbys of what they were doing but all I got pointed to was a small tent in the back that supposedly had some sheets of information. In my mind it lacked presence.
Back in Montreal, it felt strange to have various people come over to photograph or videotape us working in the kitchen – I wonder if I ended up anywhere more public. I once got interviewed by a woman who had questions about the kitchen and what my beliefs were. I discussed how the People`s Kitchen worked and shared my thoughts on all the food that we waste and all the land and imprisoned animals and effort that goes into making that food that gets wasted as well. I also talked about all the homeless and needy peopel who could be getting all this wasted food instead of the dumpsters – A lot of it is still good and safe to eat. Politics in general is something I`m really not strong in, but obviously food politics is where I shine more.
Occupy Montreal was eventually shut down November 25th or 26th, I forget. I wasn’t there but wish I had been. I hear some people tied themselves to the People`s Kitchen posts as a last resistance. It sure had been quite the experience. Square Victoria had become a tarped tent city full of music and chatty people, and full of curious people with others to inform them. I loved its feel. I met some really awesome people there, but I unfortunately lost contact with most of them. I still wish I had spent more time there (and not just the kitchen, but the rest of the square as well), but my social anxiety got in the way. Still, I participated quite a lot, I had a great time, and I learned all kinds of useful things. A really great experience.