Karma Kitchen

Karma Kitchen

I just wanted to take the time and tell you, dear reader, of something wonderful that happened to me over the weekend.

Has anyone heard of “gift economy”? Can you imagine going to a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and the final bill says $0.00 and the cooks and servers and other staff are 100% volunteers out of the kindness of their hearts and this is all possible due to the generosity of others who choose to “pay it forward”?

Please let me introduce to you Karma Kitchen, an amazing restaurant created by a nonprofit that serves food once a week on Sundays in Berkeley (they have spread to Chicago and Wash DC as well). I was blessed to volunteer here this past Sunday–my first time–and I loved it!

I was assigned the task of plater with two other lovely women volunteers (we assembled the preps onto the plate). The cook, Vishnu (a jolly man from Nepal), helped us start off the morning with some warm chai (yum):

Pouring of the chai 

Not an avid caffeine consumer anymore, I became wired off that chai (good and bad)!

Other roles included maitre’d, server (waiter), dish crew (ah, any of you Hyde people–do the words “dish crew” stir any moving memories?), dessert prepper, and other various roles I am forgetting.

Okay, so without getting into too much detail, if memory serves me correctly, there were 15 volunteers, which is a lot. We definitely needed the help! The day turned out to be jam packed, with lots of people coming to enjoy the yummy Indian goodness being served up at KK.

I was a plater along with two wonderful women, Emma and Neha. I’m glad I got this role–I’ve never worked in the food/restaurant industry and probably would have been flustered to be a server, although this would have been a wonderful opportunity to interact with the customers. However, I am satisfied playing a role behind the scenes.

Might I just say that Emma, Neha, and I rocked da plating casbah. We were a tight team, dishing out the rice, mixed veg, dahl, channa (garbanzo) prep, and uniting it all with fluffy naan. It became an unspoken thing, our teamwork: knowing what needed to be done, filling in for each other, esp when the orders came pouring in. I think there were only two times that we actually had a lull in time.

Emma gets the lo-down from Vishnu on how to present the rice
Here come the first customers
Teamwork! All ready for consumption!
Our rock star plating ensemble – Blurry because we move like grease lightning

Yes, it was stressful in the beginning, yes, I got annoyed at the occasional finicky orders. But all in all, after sussing it all out and getting into the flow, it was a load of fun.

After closing, all the volunteers assembled together to have a communal meal together, during which we shared highlights of the day, realizations, loving words while partaking in the delicious food that we had just finished serving to others.

Why am I writing about this and why have I decided to share this experience with you, dear reader? Because this is the stuff that makes me alive. Being of service, helping others. We are not islands. We need each other, we who reside on this planet called Earth (this includes the animals and insects and all those other living and non-living entities). Giving respect, kindness, compassion, love.

Take home message: everything that KK is infused with, this is my vision for my new career. Sincere compassion, sincere giving of my heart to people, despite the severity of their condition. Educating and caring for people with pure intentions to be of service. It’s not just pumping people with medications and dumping them back onto the streets, “Stabilize ’em and move ’em on.” It’s not about “Just another job” either. This is not what I am signing up for.

So, my dear reader, I hope I was able to give you a glimpse (albeit brief) into Karma Kitchen and how it has touched me, and how it relates to my desires for my future nursing career. And if you live anywhere near Berkeley, Chicago, or Washington DC, might I strongly encourage you to pop in for a meal. Hopefully the experience of the gift economy will inspire you to pass it forward–not just for the meal but for things to come in your life.

Dancing Ganesh bestows blessings upon you

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