From afar, it looks like a haphazard sea of tents and tarpaulin, satisfying only the basic need for shelter. At certain times of the day, it might even appear deserted. But don’t be fooled by first impressions. The Occupy Montreal movement, and its kitchen, “la cuisine du peuple,” is a hub of activity. As any homeowner will tell you, the kitchen is the center of the home, and this adage rings true at Place du Peuple – ground zero of Occupy Montreal.
Mealtimes bustle with an endless line of hungry protestors and occupiers. The organization of the kitchen is an impressive feat, undertaken in what is described as a non-hierarchal manner. While there is a “head” chef, Mireille Marchant, and a supervisor and overseer of security, Eric Forest, anyone was free to enter and exit the kitchen area for whatever purpose he or she has. Volunteers were present and worked as required, but were not subjected to any task without first giving their own consent. Forest explained that there were generally four to six volunteers present at all times, and particularly during mealtime hours.
The kitchen is a large, rectangular structure covered in tarp that serves the dual purposes of storage and prep area. In front of the kitchen tent, a tarp awning covers a long serving table, upon which were two propane stoves and behind which the food line forms.
“I try to use the right quantity for everything, [and if not], we try to reuse it in other ways,” Marchant said regarding food usage. “Usually, I make the right numbers.”
Waste is deposited in large compost, recycling, and garbage bins to the side of the kitchen complex. According to Marchant, the city comes to collect waste every morning. Materials used in food production arrive by donation, with no apparent lack in supply.
And where there is food, there are dishes. As the Occupy movement bases itself on equality and non-hierarchical roles, each meal-taker is expected to clean his or her plate in a designated pavilion. Inside, three plastic bins are filled with water, Javex, and vinegar. However, many of the occupiers choose to abandon their plates rather than make this effort. Observing this lack of responsibility, Jacques Messier, a seasoned activist who has travelled around Quebec and previously participated in such movements, has become the unofficial dishwasher for the area.
“I know they need hygiene so that people don’t get sick,” Messier said.
What he noted at the Occupy Montreal protest was that “it takes time to make change.” The occupiers stand in stark contrast to the peace and love era, the counterculture social revolutions of the 1960s, where “they tried to [run away from] responsibility; it was… an easy way out”.
“[The current movement is] a wake-up call for humanity, where people are fed up,” Messier said. “They say one person has a lot of riches, and others have only just what they need to survive. We have to share more.”
Others in the line for food, while seemingly supportive, were less vocal about the cause. When asked for what purpose she was at the movement, a woman standing in the food line answered simply, “Why not?”
Another participant, Serge Jean-Louis, took a different approach. While he appreciated the food and echoed “the value of sharing riches and a better world,” he chose to “remain separate and have the freedom to come and go.” Jean-Louis agreed with such movements, but found the retention of individual identity important.
The kitchen, operating regularly seven days a week, is an invaluable part of Occupy Montreal. The food contributors and the volunteers who work here are crucial supporters of the movement, and without them, neither the kitchen nor the movement would be the same.