The pace of a busy commercial kitchen is thrilling. Add to it a shared sense of purpose, compassion, generosity, and smiles, and you’ve got José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen pop-up on Pennsylvania Avenue, here in DC. I arrived just before 8am yesterday morning, donned a WCK hat, and was put to work stripping mint leaves from stems in the rear of the kitchen. Chef Elsa, a volunteer from Lake Tahoe who was overseeing the dip, sauce, and sandwich station where I worked, was all smiles and all business. The requisite black chef pants, a few tattoos, a knit cap. I loved her completely and immediately.
Other volunteers arrived as eager to work as I was, and we quickly slipped into a rhythm. Amanda must have sliced 2,000 fresh rolls, Kay plucked anything brown from fresh lettuce leaves before laying them in orderly fashion on sheet pans, Kristin diced tomatoes and added them to the tzatziki. I delivered the enormous mountain of mint to the guy making aioli with an industrial-sized immersion blender, stirred four vats of the tzatziki with a paddle so large you could have rowed a boat with it, and then moved into sandwich prep. We were in and out of the walk-in. Someone brought around homemade cinnamon rolls.
By 10:45, we heard a line had formed out front. The doors opened at 11, and we were off to the races. At one point, Elsa moved me up to the front line to bag warm steak sandwiches as quickly as the meat guy could get steak from the grill and lay it generously atop the aioli, lettuce, and tomato-prepped rolls we’d just made in the back. Kay squeezed them shut, I took them firmly and gingerly nestled them in the bag.
“Sandwiches, sandwiches! We need more sandwiches!”
We struggled to keep up. Next to me, Hillary scooped steaming quinoa into boxes and drizzled it with meyer lemon sauce before letting the falafel guy add to it.
“Fire soup, fire soup!”
Everyone was smiling, thankful -to give and receive- and so very kind. Many of the volunteers were furloughed workers themselves; Hillary hasn’t been at work or paid since before Christmas. A single mother of three asked if she could have extra food for her children. Of course.
It was cold outside, and the line snaked around the block (see above photo). One incredible DCer, set to retire next week, brought $640 (what she had in her wallet + what she could withdraw from the ATM) to the line and started handing out $20s. Many people just asked for a hug. She said, ““These are people that I owe a debt to because they’re doing a job on my behalf and they’re not being paid…At the core of it I’m a human being and I live here. I know how hard it is to get back up the economic ladder. We’re pushing people out of their economic social status as we speak. And it’s not going to take a week or two for them to recover.”
WCK served 4,400 meals on Wednesday, 5,568 or something on Thursday, and I later found that we did more than 6,400. I’m sure today was no different. Chef Andrés has just announced that #ChefsForFeds will be expanding across the nation to help feed our citizens until the shutdown is over. If you can donate or want to help, visit https://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/
Yesterday in DC was also the March for Life. During it, in my opinion, we saw some of the ugliest and most exclusivist of humanity. Concurrently, the Indigenous People’s March peacefully protested environmental degradation, genocide, and violence against Native women. My heart was wrecked and my fury was orbital to find teenage boys, led by fellow student Nick Sandmann, from Covington Catholic school in Kentucky mob and ridicule a Native elder (himself a Vietnam vet who holds a regular ceremony for Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery ). The boys, March for Life participants, were wearing red Make America Great Hats, in case you haven’t seen their heinous behavior (video in the attached link), grinning with such ugly, evil, disdain and cheering each other on that I actually feel sick each time I see the footage. Here is Nathan Philips’, the elder, response.
It also emerged today that a recent Covington Catholic grad this past weekend held a woman down, choked and ignored her pleas to stop, and raped her until she bled. He has been charged with one count of rape and two counts of sodomy. This was not his first sexual assault offense.
I struggle to hope for the future if kids like these are part of the youth coming up. They are disgusting bigots, examples of toxic masculinity and entitlement, the worst sort of smug “Christians” who fancy themselves Christ-like but are everything but. Think Brett Kavanaugh! Who must their parents be? Why didn’t the school chaperones, who were at the March too, do something? Should you wish to reach out to Covington Catholic School, its phone number is 859-491-2247. Its address is 1600 Dixie Highway, Park Hills, KY, 41011. The principal’s email is email@example.com, and the superintendent of the district, who was a trip chaperone, is Mike Clines. On Twitter he is @supmikeclines.
I will try to focus on people like Chef Andrés, on the volunteers who came from all over to help, on the woman who handed out $20s and hugs, on all the Facebook friends -some of whom I’ve never even met IRL- who donated to World Central Kitchen since I shared my experience there yesterday. I will hope that there are more fine young people than awful, cruel ones. I will celebrate the good in the world, including all the amazing people who marched today, and hope that we can vanquish trump and his grotesque divisiveness and craven mean-spiritedness before our democracy crumbles. It’s hard to stay hopeful sometimes.