Monday, September 29, 2008

Community Kitchens

Many Americans are currently 100% reliant on the industrial food system to grow and process their food. For example, the industrial food system picks our produce, bakes our bread, cans our produce and jams, harvests our milk and eggs, makes our cheese and yogurt, catches our fish, slaughters our meat, dries our fruit snacks, and creates frozen and ready made meals. The restaurant business even puts together meals, sets them down in front of us, and cleans up afterwards.

We may enjoy not growing and processing our food. Perhaps we'd rather spend our time doing other activities. But this freedom comes at a price. Food skills have been lost to an entire generation - not just gardening, canning and baking, but even basic cooking. Along with the skills have gone the tools, the knowledge, and the equipment to feed ourselves.

For instance, during World War II, 75% of women canned their own produce, with an average of 165 jars per year, yet today few women have the time or ability (or inclination!) to do so. After the energy peak, many families will not have the skills, tools, or equipment to process food on their own.

University of North Texas Library, public domain

Community kitchens

A community kitchen can provide part of the solution to this problem. A community kitchen is a place where neighborhood residents can come together to cook and process food, and a place where experienced cooks could demonstrate and supervise food canning. For example, a community kitchen could offer:

  • A canning facility
  • Grain mill
  • Solar food dryer
  • Adobe oven
  • Solar ovens
  • A community well
  • Knowledgeable canning supervisors

During World War II, canning kitchens offered canning services and facilities to those who did not have the needed knowledge or tools to can their own food. The customer brought food and jars, and the canning kitchen operator processed the jars safely and efficiently in batches. Alternatively, customers could rent the facilities and knowledge of the operator by the hour.

Community kitchens also provide a place to exchange ideas, form and renew relationships among neighbors and to learn skills essential in a lower-energy future. Community canning or processing days would be great way to have fun working together as a group, rather than individually in each isolated home. These facilities are great for maximizing the resources (such as energy, knowledge and tools) that are available.

How To

A community kitchen could be as small as the one house in the neighborhood that has been prepared wisely, with a woodstove and an adobe oven, or as big as a purposely-created facility with multiple cooktops, solar panels and an industrial sized baking oven. Possible locations for bigger facilities are churches, soup kitchens, schools, hotels, or former restaurants, which are already designed to cook for large volumes of people.

A community kitchen could operate in multiple ways. The owners could offer their facilities via cash or barter rental, membership in a neighborhood association, or as part of a collective ownership. A strong neighborhood association could purchase or remodel an existing facility with neighborhood dues and donations and community volunteer labor, and offer the kitchen as a benefit of belonging to the association. Or the association could organize community canning days where participants receive some of the products in exchange for labor.

A community kitchen could also be a way to avoid deforestation in your area. If the kitchen was prepared ahead of time, with solar panels and energy efficient adobe ovens, perhaps an industrial sized bank of solar ovens, we could help people cook and process their food without destroying the forests around us. Because without the forests, we would soon find ourselves in a sad situation - without wood to heat or cook, with erosion potentially leading to dust bowls or flash floods, and without shade to keep us cool in the hot summers days.

Getting started

Many of us who are peak oil aware are preparing our homes and families to function comfortably on the downslope of energy availability. We're getting together the necessary tools and equipment, starting to grow our own food and learning to process our produce. But if we want to see our community continue to function, a real solution will need to be larger.

As we start to feel more prepared ourselves, we can start sharing our knowledge or begin community initiatives. For some people that point is far away. Others, like Verde who promoted food storage at her church, and Chile who is demonstrating solar cooking at her CSA, are ready now. If you are ready, and the idea of energy-efficient community kitchens strikes your fancy, what are some ways to get this idea off the ground? You could start small:

  • Demonstrate solar cooking to environmental or sustainability groups
  • Showcase your own preparations by holding tours of your garden & adobe /solar ovens
  • Help your church hold "canning days" to can excess garden produce for the poor
  • Build an adobe oven at your church (hint: good youth group activity!)
  • Offer a class on canning or preserving food to the public

Or go BIG!

  • Start or renovate a charitable soup kitchen
  • Start a for-profit business canning your own or locally grown produce
  • Start a fully energy efficient community kitchen, complete with all the amenities!

1 comment:

Chile said...

Great ideas, Hausfrau. I'm going to be looking into ways to integrate into a new community when we move (by the end of the year hopefully) and this would be a great initiative. I've already talked when one person at the farmer's market about the area we're going to. There is not a farmer's market but there's been some interest expressed. Perhaps my administrative/coordination skills could be put to good use.