Fit for a Fat Cat: Reviewing the Food at Occupied Wall Street
By Greg Vargo (and Kim Phillips-Fein)
There are lots of things you can do these days in Zuccotti Park, the tiny, non-descript sliver of cement planted with a few trees in Lower Manhattan that has become the crowded center of Occupy Wall Street, the 24-hour-a-day protest against economic injustice and inequality in modern America. You can participate in General Assemblies. You can listen to speeches or dance in drum circles. You can meditate with hundreds of other people. You can read poetry or grade papers (as I have). You can read books stored at the People’s Library or you can work on writing the Occupied Wall Street Journal. You can, of course, try to sleep under a tarp. And, you can eat damn well.
I’ve gone down to Occupy Wall Street a good bit over the last couple of weeks, and I can testify that some of the finest meals in town these days aren’t being served at the quiet, fancy of tables Per Se and Masa but at the narrow, low-slung bench in Zuccotti Park that is somehow managing to feed a thousand people (give or take) three meals a day. Staffed by about 10 volunteers, serving food donated to sustain the movement or purchased with the cash gifts that are rolling in, it seems like a tangible, secular version of the Biblical story of the loaves and the fishes: it’s a miracle that so much food is somehow appearing to feed so many.
My first day at the occupation I was unprepared for the culinary treats, so I ate a falafel sandwich before arriving, but did partake of two strawberries and a crunchy apple. Last Wednesday when I went to have my grade-in (“hey Wall Street, pay your fair share of taxes and give back those bailouts too, so my kids can have an elevator that works, smaller classes, and no tuition hike”), I knew to save room, and enjoyed a breakfast of creamy baked oatmeal, studded with tangy cranberries. A sublime lunch followed consisting of quiche with peas, spinach and mushrooms (protein-rich, good for an occupation). On Sunday, over a teach-in by journalist Chris Hedges on the erosion of checks on corporate power, I sampled a granola-nut trail mix and a white chocolate chip cookie as well as an Israeli couscous salad rich with cumin, cinnamon and capers. On Saturday, showing up with the whole family, I had a spicy vegan mélange of chick peas and roasted carnival squash, mashed together with lots of garlic. (To paraphrase Emma Goldman, if I can’t eat garlic, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.) Two-year-old daughter loved swiping shortbread cookies off the table. Later, she remarked, “I want to go back to the protest. Now!” Was it the chanting, or was it the desserts?
Some of the food comes from restaurants, too—on Sunday Indian food was being brought in to supplement the scores of pizzas (one local pizza joint is selling an Occu-Pie special). But being there made me want to cook to support the movement, so I stirred up a big pot of rice and beans—black and red, of course—and brought them down. They disappeared in about twenty minutes. In addition to all this food, there’s also plenty of coffee, dripping from an antiquated dispenser that carries a warning sign not to touch the spout.
What does all this food mean? It embodies the communitarian ethos of the movement, the way that it’s something that thousands of people are creating together. The outpouring of support shows the way that occupying Wall Street taps into frustrations and anger that we don’t usually have any way to voice or to express, giving them a place in our daily lives. And most of all, it seems a small-scale a way of demonstrating that we can create a society that responds to people’s deepest, most basic needs, and do so in ways that are beautiful, nutritious and satisfying. After all, although those eating in the hushed preserves of white-tablecloth restaurants staffed by deferential waiters might not know it, everything tastes better when you’re free.