By James Bash
for the Hollywood Star News
Portland is known as a hub for foodies. It boasts plenty of high-end restaurants, boutique food carts and perky coffee shops. But Portland also is home to many residents who can’t afford to dine at those establishments, and a good portion of them would like to share in the experience of preparing and sharing a wonderful meal with good food. That’s where Kitchen Commons comes in.
Kitchen Commons is a non-profit group that organizes opportunities for people to cook, eat and converse with each other.
“Food is an excellent bridge to connect people,” explained Jennifer Elting, the program coordinator for Kitchen Commons. “Everybody eats. Almost everyone wants to know more about how to prepare and cook. ‘What should I be eating?’ and ‘Where should I buy food?’ are also typical concerns.”
Although Kitchen Commons participants learn a lot about cooking, the non-profit is not set up in a hierarchical way with a select number of teachers and the rest designated as students. Instead, Kitchen Commons operates under the popular-education model, which sees everyone as a teacher and learner. Kitchen Commons does use the services of one or more leaders who do the planning and shopping.
“We provide kitchen leadership training in the fall and in the spring,” said Elting. “It is a three- or four- hour training where we teach people how to start and lead a community kitchen. We offer ongoing skill-building and networking support for the kitchen leaders so they can learn from and support each other.”
Elting also has a directory of available kitchens that are primarily located in churches and community centers throughout Portland.
“Each event depends on the community,” remarked Elting, “and what’s available at the kitchen they cook in. Some kitchens are more stocked than others. For example, you might need to bring a blender to the event. Foodwise, you might bring food from your garden or food from the store. Each kitchen decides if they need to charge a fee or ask for a donation. If ten participants bring five dollars, that money can buy the ingredients for the next community kitchen.”
Kitchen Commons was an idea that came from of a Community FEAST event, which was sponsored by the Oregon Food Bank and the Alberta Co-Op to get people to talk about food issues in the city. Organizers knew of successful community kitchens in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. So, five years ago, Kitchen Commons was launched with a few pilot community kitchens.
“It’s really about bringing people out of isolation,” added Elting. “A lot of people in Portland don’t have community. Kitchen Commons can be a way for people to build relationships.”
Elting has personal experience to back up her advocacy for Kitchen Commons. When she was 17 years old, she moved to Portland where she didn’t have any family or community. It wasn’t until she got a job at a community-oriented place that she found people who would support and mentor her. “I came from a food-insecure situation. Knowing how to cook was incredibly important but so was having community around me.”
“My first experience with a community kitchen was to invite friends over to make chicken enchiladas,” remarked Elting. “We are all busy families and we wanted to stock up our freezers.”
According to Elting, there have been more than 100 community kitchen events since Kitchen Commons got underway. Some community kitchens meet every month on a regular basis, such as the St. Mike’s group, which meets in the kitchen at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in the Concordia neighborhood. There’s also the Hollywood Accessible Lunch Group that cooks up a storm with people who have developmental disabilities. They gather at the Hollywood Senior Center. Another group, the Cully Community Kitchen, has a healthy exchange of food and ideas spoken in English and Spanish every month at Luther Memorial Church’s kitchen.
“Two weeks ago we had four community kitchens in one week!” exclaimed Elting. “I got to attend three of them. They were all very different, and they were all a lot of fun!”
The Kitchen Commons website includes information on ongoing groups and suggestions on how to get involved or start your own community kitchen event. Yum!