Kitchens’ Reflection Table #1 – Report

This is the report of the conversation we had, for the introduction text, see here

Politics of food: How can we use our kitchens and the food we cook with to bring forth change?

At this table we were with quite some kitchens with different experiences, from the ones getting food through dumpster-diving to kitchens buying from small-scale farmers or from food co-ops.

We started discussing dumpster diving, how it is still not a complete solution and it doesn’t bring us close to what most of us considered more or less ideal to reach, an exploitation-free small-scale agriculture that makes healthy food accessible to everybody.

We also discussed a bit Veganism, that is something that wasn’t mentioned in the text but that all the kitchens present are practicing. We recognised that cooking vegan is helping in reducing exploitations (both on animal but also partially on land and human, if we consider the shortening of the chain – from “veggies => animal => people” to “veggies => people”). This, however, while having it clear that reducing exploitations is not the same as removing them and that simple vegetables like tomatoes bought in supermarkets still underly a lot of exploitation, from the land where they are grown, to the people who harvest them, to the people working in the distribution centers and so on.
Furthermore we discussed the necessity of keeping in mind how the capitalist food production system is also adapting to these new needs in the consumer market, how vegan products are more and more available in supermarkets or in big fast food chains, not breaking at all with the usual exploitation logics. We could find similar dynamics with labels such as ‘local’ or ‘green’ that are not positive values in themselves if separated from a context of rejection of the above mentioned exploitation logics. As an example we mentioned the Food Future Lab at the Utrecht University Canteen, an attempt to make available there ‘sustainable’ and local food, done in the context of Sodexo, the multinational company having the monopoly on food at the University, the same one renown for various abuses all over the world, and especially in jails they manage in the UK.
Similar dynamics were also mentioned regarding ‘food waste’, with on the one hand expensive restaurants appropriating the concept, like Instock that is just helping the Albert Heijn brand in looking more sustainable, and on the other hand assistentialist models like Voedselbank.

It seemed like most agreed that, as collective kitchens, to bring forth change we need to recognise the importance of working on two levels: on the one hand exposing and boycotting the industrial food production system, on the other hand trying to build an alternative.

Exposing and Boycotting

Regarding the first level, we briefly discussed the necessity of finding ways to enlarge our outreach beyond the people normally visiting our spaces. Ideas mentioned were more public events, like for example cooking or serving food on the street from time to time to raise awareness.
We noticed differences among the anti-foodwaste kitchens in how far people felt safe to go in exposing the situation, while some were more open, others stated the fear of legal repercussions one might eventually face.

Alternative Economies

About the second level, the one of building an alternative, we started by exploring some of the options that do exist now, or that could exist on how to give access to healthy organic food. Examples that are known are community supported agriculture (both with people receiving weekly boxes of food in their neighborhoods, or with people harvesting themselves), local farmer markets or urban community gardens. People also liked to think of the possibility of kitchens running autonomous farms collectively as a mean to get healthy exploitation free vegetables.

While mentioning these examples we did not go in depth into the issues of each of these approaches singularly, but we did spend some time talking about the main problematics, that we always run into, when trying to build alternatives in the existing society: money and time constraint.

We recognised the question of compensation to farmers and more generally of money and sustainability under an economic point of view as a central node. While getting food from local farmers, how to be able to provide fair compensation for their work and still serve meals that are economically accessible to everybody, escaping the exclusive logics of organic food?
This is a problem of no small importance, that ties to many specific issues. One issue is the matter of donations for the meals that are cooked in our kitchens, it is not always an easy task, when having to pay for the vegetables, to get back enough money to cover all the costs, even more so if this happens at benefit dinners, where the idea is to use food to gather money for other causes: when the price of vegetables goes up (because they come from different circuits) this tension is of course bigger.
Another issue that came up, and on which we reflected, was the tension between operating in our kitchens on volunteer basis (not as charity work but as a way to escape salaried labour dynamics) and using this free labour to support farmers, doing their work not as volunteers but as paid workers. Of course it was mentioned that volunteer work is not a value of itself and that working to create different economies in the long run also implies trying to create the conditions such that we (just like anybody else) do not have to work oppressive jobs to survive while doing our political work in our free time, but that’s a broader discussion. We discussed then what were the reasons that, in our context, don’t make possible running farms on a volunteer-basis: running a farm is not something that can be reduced to a 8 hours a week activity, but it’s a work requiring a constant engagement and a certain degree of knowledge that most of the people have lost. This is something to keep in mind, even if we don’t want to idealize farm work.

Moreover, local organic farmers trying to escape exploitative dynamics do struggle to make a living out of their job to begin with. Access to land is a big issue in the Netherlands, a context where a big part of the farmable land is used for large-scale intensive agriculture. Also, it’s often the case that projects of community supported agriculture are run with the support of local municipalities (usually giving either land or subsidies for the project).
It doesn’t help either the fact that there isn’t a broader and more stable support network to these projects, this usually leads farmers to selling their vegetables wherever they can, and also to them having to undergo all the market logics of organic farming.

Starting from direct experiences we also discussed the problems around organic certification. This implies the strict following of a lot of regulations mainly meant for industrial agriculture that cannot be ignored if one wants to sell certified organic food. In this context the necessity to engage at a policymakers level and to push for changing policies around organic farming was raised. This was a point of debate and the contradiction between trying to create a new society and dealing at policymaking level inside the current one came out. The example of the Genuino Clandestino (Genuine and Clandestine) network in Italy was also brought up in this regards, as an example of shifting from state controlled regulations to farmers and consumers self-regulations. Farmers in Genuino Clandestino are refusing the organic certifications and deciding by themselves the criteria and procedures to follow to be part of the network.

Next to money, there is also a time problematic. We underlined the necessity of a cultural shift on how people relate to food and its production: from having finished products already on the table, to learning to cook and reserve time for it. Of course, this is not something that can be changed easily without changing the dynamics that are imposed on us under the capitalist system we live in, where we’re constantly out of time or energies due to our condition of exploited workers.

After all these discussions on the many issues and problems we however recognised that creating an alternative economy is not something that can be done overnight. It is a long, hard process when starting from scratch.
A person reminded us of the historic example of the phenomenon of Pillarisation in the Netherlands, when between 1850-1960 different communities regulated themselves. This example was brought up to point out how different economies can co-exist at the same time with the support of a community. Even if Pillarisation is something very far away from both what could be deemed as ideal and from the current system, it was meant as an invitation to learn from history and not underestimate the power of self-determination of a community.
In any case, confronted with the problematics of a long, hard process, the necessity to start from small actions was stated. As an example we talked about the difference (and all the implications) between buying products like dish-washing soap from supermarkets or buying them from the self-managed factory of Vio.me in Greece. Just this decision would imply shifting the flow of economic resources from supporting the capitalist system to supporting a political project with similar goals as ours. The same reasoning could be applied to all the dry products (like rice, lentils, etc.) that kitchens need to buy anyway. Related to this also the importance of supporting projects that are politically close to us was underlined, understanding political proximity as a value to keep in mind next to the geographical one.

Furthermore, during the discussion we also realised that certain informal networks and connections between people in kitchens and farmers do exist already but a broader and more concrete network is lacking. It would be nice therefore, in continuing the work and the reflections started with this session, to strengthen the connections already existing by confronting ourselves with each other, exchanging knowledges and ideas among kitchens. Also the idea of creating a collective zine about VoKus in the Netherlands was proposed as a way of putting together many knoweledges and information.

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Kitchens’ Reflection Table #2 – Introduction Text

Escaping the service dynamics: What to do when people see you as a service and not as a collective effort?

“All the restaurants that have had flowery write-ups in the newspaper, that serve only organic, wheatfree, vegan food, that cultivate a hip atmosphere with suggestive drawings, still have cooks, waiters and dishwashers who are stressed, depressed, bored and looking for something else.” (Abolish all Restaurants)

The modern city is full of restaurants and other places where food, one of the main aspects of social reproduction, gets commodified and therefore inserted into capitalist dynamics that are both, eploitative towards the workers, and exclusive towards who can get access to this food.

Our Vokus are attempts to get the meal and its production out of these dynamics and make space for their collectivisation. We see this as a step to gain back some autonomy on our lives. We want to run them without cooks, waitress, cleaners and guests, but with the partecipation of the people that all can differently contribute.
To achieve this, the involvement of everybody in the space is essential.

However, living in the society we live in, this involvement is not something that comes automatic, be that because of lack of time and energy, or because we forgot what collective self-management is and became unaccostumed to putting it into practice.

The feeling of being perceived as a service, a simple free meal, often pops up, delegitimizing the conflictual role we want to assume inside the city. While we don’t want to criminalize people that for one evening are coming for a free meal and nothing more, we deem it necesessary to reflect together and find practices to not lose this conflictuality and push forward an idea of collective self-management

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Kitchens’ Reflection Table #1 – Introduction Text

Politics of food: How can we use our kitchens and the food we cook with to bring forth change?

We want to express a strong and firm critique at the current standardized and industrialized food production system, harmful for everybody’s health and even worse for the communities living in the territories where this food is produced. This terrible food quality is due to the usage of chemicals and techniques based exclusively on principles of cost minimization and quantity maximization. This is also a system that wastes more than one third of what is produced. Perfectly fine fruits and vegetables fill bins everywhere around the city everyday.

However, we deem necessary overcoming a simple critique of the food production system, especially in these years where the global capitalist paradigma redefines itself around apparently ecologist instances. In the new “green economy” food gains a fundamental role, and labels like “organic” or “local” or “anti-foodwaste” are nowadays seen as economically valuable even from those businesses and governments that in the past and even now greatly contribute to devastation of lands. And for this reason then, in the case of food-waste we have been seeing a lot of business models (ads in supermarkets, fancy anti-foodwaste restaurants, anti-foodwaste apps…) coming up trying to make money out of food-waste pretending to solve the problem.
Moreover, not even the so called “organic food” is immune to heavy contradictions and power dynamics enriching the few and usual suspects. The certification system is placing the organic production in the exactly same dynamics of the usual food industry; this critique, limited as it is to the healthiness of the product, is nothing more than the rhetoric of (presumed) “quality food”  – that of course only very few “lucky” ones can afford, on the basis of the usual equation (low income :  bad food = rich people : certified organic food) – if it does not come with a firm and fundamental refusal of any logics of exploitation, logics that all these discourses on green capitalism do of course never question.

We do think that any meaningful discourse on food should start from this: the industrial food system and its production and distribution are completely centered on the wildest exploitation: of land, of water, of animals and of human labour. Making it greener won’t change the dynamics.

In many VoKus this critique is manifested in different ways, even if partially. We ourselves dumpster-dive every week, getting fruits and veggies, still perfectly fine to eat, literally out of the trash bins. This allows us to expose foodwaste, one of the most visible contradictions of this food production system (and its supposed efficiency) and at the same time to serve a free dinner with what is considered to be waste. While, by reclaiming this waste, we firmly reject the large-scale retail trade and all the exploitation it directly or indirectly perpetuates, we do recognise that this is not building complete alternatives to this food production system.

Other VoKus do the same thing we do, others use local products from small-scale farmers, others are buying most of their food from the supermarkets.
It is also necessary to confront the contradiction arising between the support that the food bought in supermarkets gives to the ipercapitalistic economy, thus the excessive power of the large scale distribution imposing woldwide new forms of slavery (from fields in the Global South to the distribution centers of Jumbo or Albert Heijn) and the ideas and experiences circulating in the spaces where our kitchens are operating, and where, despite everything, we still do find ourselves buying, from time to time, from the supermarkets.

For these reasons, we deem necessary to reflect together on ways to collectively refuse the existing and build new possible alternatives starting also from food.
All this implies in our opinion questioning what it means politically to choose which products to use in the kitchen, that is, considering how doing grocery is a political act, how all these choices can have an impact when they are situated inside collective processes, in this case, to build a network of relations between producers and consumers/cooks at a local level, creating communities of solidarity based not only on economic relations but on sharing political goals, and making it possible, for real, to give everyone access to a decent meal.
We would like to discuss on this and other ideas and try to think together on ways in which we can start creating alternatives through food.

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Report from the No Border Camp

Freedom of movement is not a right; it is a real living force. Despite all the obstacles that states put in people’s way — all the barriers of barbed wire, money, laws, ID cards, surveillance and so on — millions cross borders every day. For every migrant stopped or deported, many more get through and stay, whether legally or clandestinely. Don’t overestimate the strength of the state and its borders. Don’t underestimate the strength of everyday resistance  –   A No Border Manifesto

Restricting migration is a priority for the Dutch government and the EU. The walls of Fortress Europe are rising taller, rescue-missions by aid organisations are counteracted, and refugees are locked up and deported. Thousands of people die in the Mediterranean Sea or in the desert, or they are stuck in horrible conditions. Politicians instigate hate against refugees, while weapons-companies are in the mean time making big money on militarizing borders. Rich Western countries keep fueling the reasons why people flee through unequal trade, weapon exports, causing climate change, and military interventions.

To get into action and oppose these tendencies last year we helped organizing the No Border Camp, a three-day event around the No Border struggle that took place at House Ivicke in Wassenaar, at the beginning of August. The purposes of the camp were multiples:  exchanging knowledge and learning from each others through workshops and talks, enforcing connections among people active or interested in the struggle and doing protest actions, all on a extra-parliamentary and anti-authoritarian basis.

Some time has passed, and we don’t really have notes, but we’ll try with this small report to give back some impressions from the camp, but also about what we experienced in helping with the organization, mainly to save them from being forgotten. 

Let’s maybe start with the Camp then. It is always amazing to see what a bunch of people can set up autonomously, and how these camps work out through self-organization and participation of the people attending the event. The First two days where structured as following: first a delicious breakfast prepared by the action kitchen Le Sabot, then the general assembly, where the various work groups that helped with the organization gave some information and small updates about their work. Right after that, the day program started with the first two slots of the program, followed by lunch and then three more talks/workshops slots in the afternoon. Then, after dinner, a cultural program took place with concerts ( one evening Your local Pirates, the next one The Kush Band) and the theater performance Our Footsteps. The talks and workshops were well attended and served as a mean to exchange knowledges, but also to create some space for people to reflect together on how to support each other in specific struggles. Next to the program, every day some actions were done, for examples a noise demo at the foreign detention center in Rotterdam, or a flyer-action at Otto Workforce to denounce the bad working conditions of migrant workers. It was very nice as well to see that next to the organized program some workshops and actions came up spontaneously. On Sunday, the last day of the camp, most of the people took part in the bigger action, targeting the NATO/TNO building. 

For most of us, this experience was the first time being actively involved in the organization of such a big event, and we generally had a good impression of how things turned out. With the talks and workshop program, although far from being exhaustive, we tried to cover a variety of related struggles and to point out how the oppressions perpetuated in the capitalist society we live in are connected. We also received many proposals for talks and workshops from people and collectives active abroad that decided to join us for the camp; this really showed us how knowledge exchange and international connections are needed and valued by people active in the struggle. 

We focused mainly on three thematic fields: migration and migration policies, intersection to other struggles and practical workshops.  

The first thematic block consisted of a nice mixture of speeches about borders dynamics (such as externalization of the European Union borders or criminalization of sea rescue missions) about the struggle of people living on their own skin the effects of those policies (with talks about the situation in Turkey and the Evros route, the situation of women and atheists in Iran, the forced migration in Venezuela and the struggles of living as an undocumented person in Amsterdam) and of people and collectives organizing to oppose border policies (like the experiences of people showing solidarity to migrants detained in detention centers and people cooking at the border to support people trying to cross)

In the second block, we focused on the intersections between the migration struggle and other struggles with session about e.g. the connection between migration and capitalist exploitation, climate change and weapons export by western countries.

The last block, contained a variety of useful workshops to acquire practical skills ranging from how to improve group dynamics in a demonstration and how to squat, to how to set up a migrant solidarity network or how to do ‘Naming and Shaming’ to companies from border control systems. 

One of the biggest node we had to confront ourselves within this experience, and that we think is important to talk about, is definitely the one of the relation between the ‘dutch radical scene’ and the migrant communities. The more and more we found ourselves reflecting on how to best involve migrant communities in the program, the more the disconnection between the latter and the ‘radical scene’ became evident. To try to start untangling this node, we decided to host as part of the program a reflection session on the relation between No border activism in the dutch radical left and migrant communities. Unfortunately, the reflection session did not turn out as expected and the discussion could not really start, leaving this topic unspoken. Nevertheless, we see this issue as a central one and well keep thinking about it in our further steps. In the meantime, here the text we prepared as a starting point for the reflection session, that we still believe is worth reading.

Reflection Session on No Border Activism – Introduction Text

 

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Reflection Session on No Border Activism – Introduction Text

1.  One of the core beliefs of every fight for social justice is that the people that are directly affected by these oppressions should be at the forefront of that struggle. 

Coming from an environment in the Netherlands where the majority of the people involved in “no border activism”*** are from Western countries, and thus mostly not people who had to confront with their bodies the border system, we felt the need to discuss among ourselves what does it mean to do “no border activism” in this context, what are the dynamics that bring and brought to this situation and what are the practices to overcome these limitations?

 ***(We mean here by no border activism struggles that are mostly carried on by groups and people related to an anti-authoritarian, extra-parliamentary left. We do not think that these enclose all the struggles ongoing against borders, but we’re gonna use this term for simplicity) 

 We want to use this reflection session as an opportunity to discuss on these issues and think of possible solutions. Hereafter are some points of reflections to help the discussion

 2. We acknowledge the existence of a long-lasting gap in the No Border Activism in the Netherlands between traditional western activists and the migrant communities. We believe that there are many reasons for the existence of this gap. 

  •  The interiorized categorization that leads leftists to view political migrants as refugees in need of help and not as political subjects, or the reluctance to create bridges of real solidarity (thus as an occasion for mutual learning and support) for struggles of political migrants that are not 100% in line with one’s own ideology.
  •  The systematic pressure exercised by the “integration” policies, the effects of racist conditions, language barriers and social isolation experienced by migrant people.

By the above-mentioned factors the groups are ultimately separated from each other and the mutual ignorance and prejudices are maintained or strengthened by missing points of contact.

3. We realize that the question on how to involve migrants communities in ‘traditional western no border activism’ relies on problematic assumptions, implicitly stating that “they” need to come to “us”, assuming that they are not already resisting and fighting.

4. The Netherlands is perceived as a country far away from the border, it is not a European Union border country nor a transit area, but rather an end destination. (This of course doesn’t mean that people don’t die in The Netherlands because of border policies or that people oppressed by the border system are not faced with day-to-day problems) At the same time though, the Dutch state not only plays a big role in European border policies, it also has a big influence in destabilizing countries where migrants come from.

Given that the gap between our communities exist, in the context we are situated in, what can we do to establish better connections to each other? How to care for each other? We would like to reflect on practices to accomplish this. 

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