Sunday, August 01, 2010

When eating becomes an experience- and not an activity

When I first heard about Karma Kitchen, I thought it was a commercial kitchen-like restaurant where destitute, homeless and other impoverished Washingtonians queue up for free meal. But my volunteer experience at the restaurant corrected the erroneous thought.

The restaurant is run by a dynamic group of volunteers from all works of life. Every Sunday, a different team meet-up at the restaurant “to practice generosity through the simple act of serving a meal”. Last week, I had an opportunity to serve as one of the volunteers, along with about 15 other young professionals living in D.C. We served over 100 guests. We were all assigned different roles- taking orders from the guests, serving the meal, washing the dishes etc. I was stationed in the Kitchen. The minute I stepped in, I remembered Pastor Paula White’s words, "If you can't take the heat, you don't get to be in the kitchen...that is where the things get cooked."

Even though she was referring to the ability to persevere in life, I could relate to it literarily. I did not know commercial Kitchen was so hot. I spent the first couple of minutes working my mind to get used to the heat. I mean, if I was going spend about three hours serving, I might as well enjoy the process and the heat too.

The day’s entrĂ©e was Saag Aloo, Channa Masala, Cabbage fry, Naan with cupcake and rice pudding (for dessert). Professional cooks prepared the meal in advance and our role in the kitchen was to serve it to the guests in the restaurant as a gift. Halfway through the task, we were all called from the kitchen to the main restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of the volunteers. You could hear the cheers of the guest as we sang “happy birthday to you.”

Everyone came together, leaving their social status outside the door, to enjoy good meal and good company. Thus, budding into a community of people united by the experience of eating and the generosity of sharing.

Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward...” The philosophy of the restaurant requires guests to make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them. “In keeping this chain going, the generosity of both guests and volunteers helps to create a future that moves from transaction to trust...” So at Karma Kitchen, eating is not an activity but an experience! Visit