Many cities in America have some kind of alternative or fringe community-led food share, such as Food Not Bombs. In New Orleans, we have the New Orleans Community Kitchen. In their own words, the Commie Kitsch (as it’s sometimes affectionately referred to) is a “volunteer-run project… that brings people who love to grow, gather, cook, and serve food in the hopes of building solidarity with those marginalized by capitalism and the industrial food system.” You can catch these folks in Central City or the CBD, feeding green salads to the public or catering events like the Trayvon Martin rally or the Anti-Capitalist March at Lafayette Square. They also throw down rad benefit shows with local favorite bands like Mea Culpa and Curved Dog, as well as popular benefit dinners to help keep the Community Kitchen boat afloat.
I’ve always wanted to go to a Community Kitchen benefit dinner but it’s usually RSVP’d by the time I even hear about it. In July, however, I got lucky. I reserved pour deux rapidement. We arrived on time but they were still prepping, so we walked down the block for a beer. Upon our return we found the first course already on the table. We plopped into a couple seats, not just at a dinner table but on a culinary caravan contracted for seven courses into uncharted tastebud territory.
(This is not the course list, but a complete list of everything we ate that night)
1. Homemade gluten-free crackers with smoked apple chutney and eggplant chokha relish
2. Roti two ways
3. Chow chow rose
4. Green banana souse
5. Bagan chokha
6. Mint yogurt matha
7. Baked fish or tofu wrapped in a banana leaf
8. Peach ginger chutney
9. Puffed basmati rice
10. Channa aloo
11. Banana tart tatine
12. Homemade caramel shapes
14. Coconut cookie
15. Carrot halwa
GLUTTONY & GOOD COMPANY
Of course I loved everything and returned every plate super spotless. The portions were small, but that night my sole mission was to eat everything they put in front of me because I know they put so much love, effort and time into cooking; that’s what makes Community Kitchen so special.
To top it off, the company was as unique as the food. Various kinds of folks I’d not usually break bread with sat with us: one of the volunteers’ mom who was visiting from Jersey, a couple of well-cultured, handsome people from the work world of Nico (one of the Community Kitchen’s volunteers) and neighbors from around the corner. There we were, strangers until that moment, leaning over or encouraging each other from the other end of the table: “Try the Channa Aloo!” “Hey, this banana leaf-wrapped tofu is delicious! Here, you gotta try it;” and like my great-grandmother would do, a piece would land on the edge of my plate before I could even answer.
THANK YOU, NEW ORLEANS COMMUNITY KITCHEN
In a world where the government can’t seem to manage itself, yet micromanages us— telling us where we can park, how loud our parties can be and even who we can feed— the Community Kitchen reminds me of the importance of looking out for each other and the simple joy a cooked meal can bring. Eating is a basic need of all living things; so is simple recognition and the feeling of being included. That feeling of satisfaction is precious, magical, powerful; people need to feel that more, most especially those who think they are forgotten, living in the shadows of society.