It is the fourth weekend already, which we spend helping at the “Solidarity Kitchen” in the Migrant’s Center of Thessaloniki. Eight days spent on cooking, serving food, cleaning after the “customers” – the kitchen is open for everybody and the clientèle varies from more or less colourful migrants, through decent and face-keeping pensioners to the genuine street people – musicians, beggars, addicts and whoever is able to follow the smell of free food.
Today was a hard day. One of two cookers run out of gas, so the whole rhythm of cooking and serving (sometimes up to 150-200 servings a day) was spoiled. As we were waiting for the food to get ready, people were getting more and more nervous – the crowd was growing, instead of flowing peacefully.
Then there was a problem of diet change.
Normally, we cook vegetarian. But recently, as the benefit party was a moderate success, the kitchen obtained some meat. So today’s main dish was a bit of pork in sauce, on the pillow of rice. Plus an usual side-dish: a portion of salad. Together with practically unlimited supply of bread and water it made today’s meal a bit above average.
And this was the first time as I saw so many food trashed by – supposedly hungry and malnourished – people. Just a fraction of them, but visible fraction, were taking whole set of food, just to eat meat from the top and to leave the rest hardly touched. Today I started to understand why the long-term members of the Kitchen collective are so skeptical, when I talk about building solidarity, small communities, cooperation, among people who come to the Kitchen. It was sad to see how such a tiny ‘luxury’ made people throw away the rest of food – which normally would be eaten completely.
It is really hard to think about “masses” as the revolutionary forces, when you sweep the floor after them, brooming, cleaning ashtrays and tables – all dirty and visibly treated like a place to be trashed and abandoned.
But at the same time I realized that people who come to the Kitchen aren’t revolutionary masses. They are really those, who cannot fit into the capitalist order of the society, but at the same time they do not know any alternative. So some of them desperately keep the style – trying to show dignity by sticking with forms. Other fell into pure survival – get as much as you can, eat some, carry the rest away, without making problems.
There are also those, who clearly went nihilist – they do not care about forms, the surrounding or other people – just like a noisy bandar-log pack, they occupy the area for a while, leaving trash and leftovers behind them, as they left.
The Kitchen collective works for years here, trying to instill some participation and some positive behavior. As they say – it doesn’t work. I see it working, but in a very few cases. There are “regulars” who take part in cleaning, washing dishes, managing the “traffic” – but indeed, just a few of them.
So, perhaps, it is the challenge to face: how to make more of these people to start to participate, rather than just taking. And for some others – to start behaving just a bit more civilized way.
I do not have any idea that could be presented here. What I only know is that just keeping things as they are – serving food and hoping for a change – will not probably work. The Kitchen is a noble initiative, but at the same time it is clearly just another charity – not a social change spark. Noble and helpful – but a dead end anyway. Unless we invent something.