People’s Kitchens (article from Ethical Consumer; the author a former Redbricker & co-founder of The Redbricks’ People’s Kitchen in 1999)
A People’s Kitchen (PK) is very different to a conventional restaurant in a number of ways. They are run by volunteers, usually to raise money for other small-scale progressive projects, and often on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ or ‘suggested donation’ basis. They are also usually vegan, and often make use of food that would otherwise have gone to waste, making for some interesting and unique dishes.
We spoke to Miles who helps run both Derby and Wirksworth people’s kitchens, who said that people at both events “typically give an average of £3.75 a head”, for a three course meal. He has resisted calls for fixed-fee meals, saying “I like it that even if someone has no money they can still come to eat. We also get a fair few activists and others doing lots of voluntary stuff, and I like it that these people can pay what they can afford”.
Derby and Wirksworth both usually have 30-40 people turn up, and run a monthly event but being fairly close, some people go to both which makes it a fortnightly option. Other PK’s such as the one at the Passing Clouds venue in Dalston, and Brixton PK, happen every other week. The PK in Hulme, Manchester, started out as a weekly event in a local pub in 1999 with up to 80 people attending, and now runs monthly, whereas Nottingham’s is every Saturday.
Most of the UK’s People’s Kitchens were inspired by experience of a similar project in another country, a ‘Comida Popular’ in Barcelona, a ‘Volxkuche’ in Berlin and Leipzig, or the ‘Food not Bombs’ model in the US.
In many European cities there is a more visible and established social centre movement than in the UK, with empty buildings being occupied as living space and also hosting a range of activities including these cheap communal meals. Food Not Bombs give food away free, but emphasise that it is a ‘meal with a message’, to get people thinking about solutions to ‘the political, economic and environmental crises threatening our future’.
When asked what he thinks is most important about the PK, Miles said,
“I like it that there’s a fairly diverse group of strangers who get together to eat, and stop being strangers.
I like it that money is denied some meaning; there are so few places you can go where having money is irrelevant: being human is enough…
I like it that there are no roles or structure or hierarchy… things just get done, like ants building a hill.
I like it best when there have been loads of different people involved, some chop veg for a bit, someone wanders in and washes pots after the first course, someone different washes up for the next… not because they were asked, or obliged, but because they just felt like joining in.
I love hearing the clamour of voices from a room full of people having a good time. Maybe that’s the most important thing.
Good times, new friends, making ideals into reality, creating a community of sorts, supporting good causes and good people… and a hundred other things… what’s not to love!?”
Is there a PK near you? Why not visit one and be inspired to start your own! See Ronny’s guide from Glossop PK.
Get involved in The Redbricks’ People’s Kitchen – whether to help cook, organise, publicise or wash-up, your skills and enthusiasm are needed. At the moment it takes place monthly in Hulme, get in touch via email on peoples-kitchen AT redbricks.org