The People’s Kitchen Fuels Vermont Workers Center

By Amelia Seepersaud

Courtesy of People’s Kitchen’s Facebook page
Pictured above is an event held by People’s Kitchen in downtown Burlington on May 2 in which free food was distributed to community members.

The Vermont People’s Kitchen, a Burlington-based community kitchen, provides food for the community and fuel for action. 

The People’s Kitchen first sprang up in 2011 during the Occupy Burlington Encampment, and  quickly became affiliated with the Vermont Workers Center, an advocacy group currently working on the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign. The People’s Kitchen serves food for events, such as rallies and protests, that the Workers Center hosts. They also serve free food to people in need. In many ways, the People’s Kitchen has become a “brand ambassador” of sorts for the Vermont Workers Center, conducting outreach and organizing events on their behalf. 

“The People’s Kitchen is family … the People’s Kitchen serves love,” People’s Kitchen member Lydia Diamond said. 

Both Diamond and FaRied Munarsyah, another member of the People’s Kitchen, emphasized the strong sense of community and kinship that the People’s Kitchen fosters. 

“Through the People’s Kitchen there is a reward, not a financial reward, but there is a reward of having camaraderie, each one helping the other,” Diamond said.

The People’s Kitchen’s ability to operate on a day-to-day basis is heavily dependent on the cooperation of all members of the community; they are able to feed the community in Burlington through donations and mutual aid. Members of the community can receive free meals from the People’s Kitchen, and in return they get involved in various ways, such as simple tasks like spreading the word about the work being done there or donating a couple dollars to the organization to more hands-on contributions like making deliveries or preparing food. 

Diamond calls the work being done at the People’s Kitchen “community action.” Their goal is to come together and provide hot, delicious food that is meant to nourish the community in a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet. Especially with the Covid-19 pandemic, the struggles that working class people were already facing have been exacerbated and many societal disparities heightened. 

 “[The People’s Kitchen] both shows the inefficiencies of the current system but also proves that a different model — a more community-minded, a less profit-oriented model — could work even better than the current charity model,” Munarsyah said.

The “charity model” is the system that corporate charities in America currently follow, in which food is donated to licensed charities and then distributed to the public. “The law is written to protect the market system,” Munarsyah said. He referenced the fact that it is against the law to give food away for free if you are not a registered charity. “We’ve been inspired to take care of ourselves because nobody is going to do it for us. If we want to get somewhere we have to fight for it, and we have to do it by ourselves. We can’t count on charity, as the charity model is undignified, and families that actually need the food are unable to access it,” Munarsyah said.

Though the Vermont Workers Center is a predominantly white organization, the People’s Kitchen has a predominantly Black and Brown team. As Black and Brown people have become the face of the People’s Kitchen, they have been brought to the forefront of the Vermont Workers Center’s movements. According to Munarsyah, members of the Black community in Burlington have been able to make their voices heard in this way. 

“We’re not just here to survive, we’re here to thrive,” Munarsyah said.

 The People’s Kitchen is not a charity. The People’s Kitchen is meant to fuel systemic change in society by bringing people together through food.

“Food is foundational to society, and if we are to transform society, we have to change the way food is produced and the way food is consumed,” Munarsyah said.