For all the big plans, visions and ideas, Building Man’s People’s Kitchen is perhaps one of the simplest and most perfect examples of community. Every day the kitchen provides three meals (mostly organic), feeding up to 45 people, for a £1 per meal. Each meal is prepared by three volunteers and cleared by three different volunteers.
What grows from this is a fun, sociable, co-creative, gift-giving experience for those who cook, and a delicious, gratefully received meal for those who are eating. The variety of cooks creates a variety of food. No one ever has to cook more than once, so when they do, they can enjoy the process, and create something special, and for those who hate cooking, there’s always the clearing up… The community kitchen depends on consciousness and consideration of the cooks – rationing ingredients, catering for different dietary needs, creative resourcefulness and the re-appropriation of left-overs. It requires collaboration and shared vision. There is also the question of economy. Whilst the cooking is done through gift, the food has to be paid for. Some of the food is skipped (salvaged from supermarket bins), but not entirely; there is also bulk orders of dried organic goods and fresh produce. So here we require a sustainable model for feeding large, changing groups of people… They started out with an honesty pot, which was often left lacking, so evolved to a ticketed, softly supervised system, which somehow seemed to formalize the process, and gently guide folk to a culture of paying upfront for the meals. The communal kitchen is a microcosm of community in action that can show us how to live and work together effectively.
Beyond the practical aspects, the kitchen is the heart of the project. It is the place where people can go to feel nourished both physically and mentally. It is a space where people can feel cared for, which cultivates a sense of belonging. Eating communally here brings folk together at three points throughout the day. This feels especially important in a community like Building Man, where people spend the day working on separate parts of one, bigger project. Without it the group would certainly become more disparate, and arguably less functional. At meal times, people gather around the kitchen, where they can step into social space, reflect on how the day is going, share ideas and deepen connections.
We were talking about the power of shared meals, and imagining what isolating cities or disparate rural communities could feel like if we offered to cook our neighbour dinner, even once a month. Josef said he plans to propose this to his neighbours once he’s back in London – could this be something we could all try?