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Friday, May 17, 2013

Musings on getting fed at the gathering

If you've never been to a gathering (or even if you have), getting fed may seem like a mysterious process that sporadically leaves you hungry or amazed at the wonderful food you just ate.  Well it's not really as mysterious as it seems.  So here are the basics.

First off, no one should ever ask you for money or trade for food (excepting small things like candy bars at trade circle).  Everyone eats for free.  We share food with each other in many different ways.

During seed camp, you better come prepared with food to share. Some of the early kitchens may be serving "off the rails" (@ the kitchen counter) but you never know who will be there and how much food they have to share.
Bring whatever you can and share as best as you can with others.  Some of the kitchens may come with food supplies they have purchased, but you never know.

Once the gathering gets going (usually a few days after the Summer Solstice), dinner will be served in the main meadow.  Commonly called "Main Circle" or "Dinner Circle," kitchens bring food to the meadow, we circle up, om, and then are served food from a bucket or cooler.  THANK YOU KITCHENS!  After we eat, many folks hang out to play music, visit with friends or participate in activities like the "Angel Walk."   This is my favorite time of the gathering.  It's when those who wish take the time to hang out with old and new friends.

Many kitchens will continue to serve off the rails but normally do so earlier in the day or later in the evening.  Each kitchen decides for itself when and what to serve so finding a kitchen that is serving "off the rails" is catch as catch can unless you get plugged into a kitchen.  One easy way to get plugged in is to approach a kitchen and offer to dig a shitter, chop wood, haul water, or chop veggies for some meal or another. 

As I mentioned earlier, many kitchens come with their own food supply purchased by the core crew.  Other kitchens come with gear but not much else.  No matter how things start out, more food needs to be purchased as the gathering progresses and more wonderful people come home.

Generally a group of people come together to facilitate supplies.  After all, purchasing large quantities in bulk is usually less expensive.  Some kitchens do their own supply runs with either their own funds or funds from a collection can stationed in their kitchen, others participate in large scale supply runs usually involving a lot of food and funds from the "Magic Hat."

The Magic Hat can be found at Dinner Circle and Information when Dinner Circle is not happening.  Sometimes the Magic Hat goes on a Magic Hat parade around the gathering soliciting funds.  Magic Hat funds are managed by the Banking Council some or most of whom are usually at Dinner Circle.  Folks who become part of this council track income and expenses, count them money and insure the integrity of the process.  Most of the magic hat funds go to buy food that is distributed to the kitchens serving Dinner Circle. If a kitchen is not serving Dinner Circle, usually they will not get funds.  There is a Kitchen Council that meets daily or every other day (usually by Information) that plans supply runs, meals and works out all these issues.

Basically the process goes like this, you put cash money (no checks, credit cards, food stamps, etc) in the Magic Hat.  Money is collected and counted.  After a few days of this, a supply run is organized.  Once that has happened the supply run goes out, purchases the agreed upon supplies (or as close as possible) and then comes back with the food.  A supply run can take two days or even three.  Once the food comes back, it is distributed to the kitchens - a process that can take another day or two.

After the food is distributed to the kitchens, it gets cooked and served - a process that can take another day or two depending on when the supplies arrive at the kitchen and what else the kitchen is involved in at present. 

Now we come to the most important part, if you have $50 to donate to the Magic Hat, do it the day you arrive at the gathering.  Don't put $5 a day in for ten days.  Every year we have a food shortage for a few days somewhere between June 23 and July 2 because people start arriving in mass after the Summer Solstice and we have a lag between donations coming in and food being served.

Look at it this way, if one hundred people arrive on June 23 and donate $50 dollars each, we will have $5,000 to feed not only these one hundred people but the additional two thousand people who have subsequently arrived on June 28 when the purchased food is served.  If on June 25, two hundred and fifty people arrive and donate $50 dollars each, we will have over ten thousand dollars to feed the fifteen thousand people on site by June 30.  However, if people donate one or five dollars a day, then by the time we have enough money to feed fifteen thousand people, it's July 5 and most people are leaving.

If you do not have or do not wish to donate cash money, food supplies are always welcomed.  The good news is that the food you bring with you will make it into your belly tomorrow.  While brown rice, beans and quinoa are always welcomed, hardy fruits and veggies are very important as well.  Bring apples and oranges by the caseload. Cabbage, carrots and zucchini transport well and as much as you can bring will be eaten. Onions and garlic are always needed. Leave the fancy lettuce and peaches behind unless you know how to transport them so they don't get ruined.

 If you bring pasta, try to bring vegan pasta so everyone can partake.  Save the egg noodles for another occasion.  Peanut butter and bread (vegan if you can find it) go a long way to providing healthy fuel and whole wheat flour is always needed for kitchens that bake bread and pizza!  If you decide to go shopping after you've been at the gathering, check in with Kitchen Council to get plugged into any special deals folks may have worked out with local suppliers.  After all, if you can get it for 30% off, then you can buy more food to feed more bellies for the same amount of money.


  1. As a person that has brought a 'kitchen' to Gatherings, I think the way the food is presented is an insult to the hard working folks in the kitchens. We get up at dawn, work all day,carry the containers all the way to the Circle. Then we have to shlep the food around to you all seated on the ground. Food is not shared equally. Food is contaminated. Food gets wasted. Then, we , the kitchen staff, carry the empty containers back, clean up, and get some sleep. Just so the rest of you folks can go out to do the fun stuff all night long. Can we have some more RESPECT for the food and the kitchens? How much better it would be, if when the food arrives at the Circle, it's kept in one spot, and the hungry folks line up to get it. Ever hear of a Healing Heart Dinner Circle? Food is in the middle, and at some point, two lines of folks are guided to the serving tables in the center. Of course, the kids and pregnant women eat first. All the kitchens have could their containers marked, so folks know where all the food comes from. Everyone gets a little bit of EVERYTHING that is offered. Then the folks are all in one general area, and announcements are easier to do. People end up sharing time and space with folks they may have never shared with. Too many folks get not enough,or nothing at all, or just some cold sticky rice. The way it's done,it may have worked at some point, but when the numbers get beyond 2,000,the logistics become crazy! I have been told this way will not work because 'some' folks will 'cheat' , and get in line twice. To this I say BS! We're RAINBOW, and anyone who doesn't act out of LOVE & SHARING will be NOTICED and consulted to the RAINBOW way. I cannot attend again this year, too many situations at home that need my attention. And cash is non-existent. I wish the best for all, and I send my LOVE!

  2. I know that cooking and serving Main Circle is hard work. I've done it myself, several years. It's often thankless, and you're right--food does get wasted, and not everyone gets enough. Focalizers work to send the food out like spokes on a wheel, every kitchen going the same direction, inner and outer circles. This is a good system, from where I've sat and stood on both sides of the serving ladle. Not everyone gets to try every delightful dish...but then no one pot could possibly hit every plate! And not everyone can stand for long enough to make it through a line which, by the 4th, would be thousands of people long. Food would get cold. By having the pots go around the circle people can sit and chat and sing as they wait, several servers working simultaneously. Some days I've gotten a heaping plate, more than I could eat and enough to share; other days I've gotten a scoop or two of food, which was enough. Coordinating the serving from the center is crucial, one person or a couple of folks watching to see where servers are and occasionally even going out to ask folks seated how many servings they've had so any late arriving kitchens can be directed to the right part of the circle. And yet every year there are folks who crowd the circle, reaching their hands over the heads of people who've been respectfully seated. Just a few days out of Babylon and they think they're starving to death, and that their dinner is more important than anyone else's. They'll chase around the circle looking to see what's "best" and then essentially begging to be served. Too impatient, too self-important, to wait. I dread to think what these folks would do if they had to wait in a line. My guess is, it wouldn't be pretty. If anything there should be more conversations about why Main Circle operates like it does. Every tradition is open to adaptation, right? The concentric circles evolved that way, in the attempt to keep family seated closer together so people could hear announcements. It's not a perfect system...but it works pretty damn well!


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