Food at Occupy Wall Street

Food is the foundation of our society, our economy and our culture. Everyone eats, and most people like to talk about their eating experiences. It’s safe to say food is one of humanity’s most shared interests. Food has played a central role in the Occupy Wall Street experience. While the marches and actions captured the attention of the mainstream media, it was the occupied kitchen that captured the attention of those who came to Zuccotti Park. At its height, the occupied kitchen was serving over 5,000 free meals a day. It was so successful at feeding people that many OWS activists blame it for the “failure” of the occupation. In the first week of the occupation, before it became a national news item, nearly all of Zuccotti’s inhabitants were activists who came out for Occupy Wall Street. As the mainstream became aware of the occupation, word spread that there was food available for all who showed up. At first non-activist groups that showed up were homeless people who found park life more comfortable and exciting than life on the streets. As time went on, all types of street people found a home and hot meal at Zuccotti Park – including the mentally unstable, drug dealers and other “unsavory characters” that made the park feel increasingly dangerous. By the time of the eviction, things had deteriorated substantially and the park’s culture had turned from an activist center to something more akin to a refugee camp. The Daily Show’s now-famous piece describing the divide between the east side of the park, which was filled with more mainstream activists, and the west side of the park, which was filled with “street people”, was accurate but missed the critical importance of food in explaining why both communities continued to inhabit the space.
The food narrative is central in the story of Occupy Wall Street. If the media, mainstream or otherwise, had followed the narrative thread of food, they would have encountered OWS’s truly radical narrative that explains how people can voluntarily organize themselves to produce services for an inclusive community within the confines of a militarized American metropolis. The articulation of such a narrative, and it’s popular distribution is an important goal of for many people involved in Occupy Wall Street, but as members of the mutual aid community, we know that talking about providing services is much easier than actually providing them. While Zuccotti was in operation, we had an opportunity to make the case for a mutual aid revolution because we had an example to point to, but the eviction destroyed that example. We need to produce another, more resilient one. Fortunately, we’ve spent 9 months setting up the FLO technology infrastructure to make that possible.