Occupy the Kitchen: Feeding the Bay Area's 99%

Occupy the Kitchen: Feeding the Bay Area’s 99%

As the Occupy movement sweeps the nation, and tents pack the public spaces, something unites Occupiers beyond politics, a fierce desire to fight the system, and the sharply declining weather — food. Most Occupy camps are fed by donations and volunteers, and the Bay Area’s most prominent camp in San Francisco and the former camp in Oakland (forcefully removed for the second time yesterday) have been no different.

A steady stream of people visit the camps’ kitchens throughout the day and night. To keep them fed and happy, large plastic and foil trays full of food are set out for Occupiers to gulp or nibble as they please. In San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza, most of the fare is put together in a plastic tent filled to the brim with donated supplies. Metal shelves that hug the walls are lined with cans of soup, beans, and coffee, while boxes of donated produce are stacked on top of each other. In order to keep up with health codes, the tent has it’s own hand washing and sanitizing station. Kitchens are run and staffed by a small crew, but more transient volunteers come in and help when needed.

“You can’t fight a revolution without being healthy,” explains Occupy Oakland’s Troy “Boomer” Johnson. With its donations, the former Occupy Oakland camp, on one ordinary day, fed its participants plates of vegetarian curry along with salad, cookies, and a selection of fruit. The fare varied widely.

In both Oakland and San Francisco, residents sympathetic to the cause will pick up food from the camp, prepare it at home, and then bring it back. Food is served 24 hours a day, and some is even prepared off site.

“We’re just trying to keep everyone happy,” says Justin, a protester who’s been working in Occupy San Francisco’s kitchen for the last four weeks. It’s that mentality that keep the biggest Occupy camps in the Bay Area going. Both camps believe that through keeping people as healthy as possible, they are able to keep the revolution alive and kicking.

Though the camps live by the same philosophy, there are a few dramatic differences. One of the biggest is heat. The former Oakland camp at Frank Ogawa Plaza —dubbed “Oscar Grant Plaza” by protesters — was lucky enough to have electric stoves, whereas the San Francisco camps are forced to go cold.

“The standards have to stay high, because if they’re not, we have problems,” says Johnson. “We have to keep up on our P’s and Q’s or they [city inspectors] can hit us.” That’s certainly the case with San Francisco. The Justin Herman camp receives visits twice a day from the fire department. “There can be nothing that generates heat,” says a San Francisco fireman as he makes his nightly checks on the camp. The fireman, who chooses to go unnamed, explains that no heat is allowed because of the highly flammable synthetic material used in tents and tarps — if one were to go up in flames, it could shrink wrap the person inside. Not fun.

While Occupy Oakland’s encampment stayed within Frank Ogawa Plaza, Occupy San Francisco is broken up between the Federal Reserve Building and Justin Herman Plaza. Though the two San Francisco camps, a mere few blocks from each other, are united under the same banner of the Occupy movement, they are surprisingly different. While the Justin Herman camp mushrooms to full capacity, the Federal Reserve camp remains small and tightly knit. Food and donations aren’t shared between the camps.

While Justin Herman has a fully stocked kitchen complete with donated stainless steel prep tables (but still no heat), the Federal Reserve has a small cloth tent for storage — a fraction of the size of the tent in Justin Herman. Also, the Federal Reserve camp is not subject to the constant health and safety checks at Justin Herman — according to Guardian, the last check happened at the Federal Reserve building about a month ago.

“It’s crazy down there [at Justin Herman],” explains Guardian, a protester at the Federal Reserve Building. “It’s calmer over here. Everything’s a little more organized. Someone wakes up at 7 every day [to prep the food] and there’s only one person [in the kitchen] at a time.” The camp also tries to stay silent after dark.

As all the camps face challenges from health inspectors and police, they also struggle to keep up with supply and demand, despite a lack of equipment and proper kitchen help. The camps are always looking for donations.

As Guardian hands out cutting boards and slices of bread to people as they pass through the kitchen, she explains that the camp at the Federal Reserve is always looking for bread — that’s the item the camp consumes the most. The kitchen always tries to put out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Occupiers.

While the two San Francisco camps agree that bread is high on the list of needs, Justin Herman Plaza volunteers cited the need for water and kitchen supplies. Justin pauses in the kitchen and points to a row of bagged coffee. “We need a French press,” he explains. The camp has bags and bags of coffee, but no way to make it. “It would be nice for people to wake up and have a cup of coffee,” says Justin.

Though San Francisco’s two camps may be divided on more than space, they are still brought together by the most important things: their ideology, shared goals, and camaraderie. “We’re just like a big family out here,” says Ronin, a black-clad Occupy protester who works with both the San Francisco camps. “It’s a big dysfunctional family, but it works.”