The Kitchens, Food & Cooks of the Occupy Movement

When the Occupy Wall Street movement was born last September in Zucotti Park, just one and a half miles from my apartment in New York City, I started noticing some striking images on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and so one day at lunch I walked down there.

It wasn't so much the now ubiquitous handmade signs protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and corruption that drew me in, it was the everyday slices of life. People were living there. To a food writer, that triggers another thought: they are cooking and eating there, too. So I began to document these protest picnics, notebook and iPhone in hand.

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Since then, the movement has spread all over the world. I've seen Occupy movements in my hometown of Los Angeles, out by the water in San Francisco, and online through friends and colleagues watching and participating in other cities around the globe.

I became a food writer because of how moved I am by the way food brings and holds people together, and the Occupy movement is no exception. The images herein are from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy New Haven.

I'd been holding this story for a while, thinking I might make my way around the country collecting more images and stories, but when I stumbled last weekend upon Occupy New Haven, smack dab in the middle of the Yale University Campus, I met someone who changed my mind.

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His name is John. He is a line cook from Torrington, Connecticut and has served as a chef in what amounts to an igloo of a kitchen at Occupy New Haven, for the last sixty days. As he led me around his kitchen, covered in ice, propane shut down by the cops, wedges of frozen bread and wilted potatoes scattered about, I saw how different this kitchen was from the vibrant autumn mess hall of Zucotti Park, and I realized that this, like the seasons, is an ever-changing story, and I should share what I have right away.

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In every case, the Occupy camps put their kitchens at the center of their communities. It's the warm place, it's where people gather, and it's where the lightest spirit dwells. There are the most smiles here. The people who work in these kitchens are focused on their jobs, and proud.

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The meals aren't fancy. Some are downright original for the way they combine donated canned goods with yesterday's leftovers, with fallen fruit for dessert. There is a sense of honor given to the food and the people who prepare it.

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Ironically, one of the best meals I had at Occupy Wall Street was pizza delivered cold one late fall afternoon. It wasn't cooked or even re-heated on site, but the effect that delivery of nourishment had on the people I sat with was deep. Cigarettes in hand, seated cross-legged on the Zucotti asphalt, they paused an intense conversation on immigration policy to say a blessing. I put down my camera and notebook as they beckoned me to join them. "You're the food lady, right?" Cold pizza passed from hand to hand until it landed in my lap. No plate necessary. This was a protest picnic.

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Related: Have Kitchen, Will Travel: A Portable Kitchen Roundup

To see the rest of my Instagram photos from Occupy, and scroll back.

(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)

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Main, Gatherings, Politics, Tours

Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.

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