Karma Kitchen

taste-karmaSeptember 29, 2013
I walk through the door of Berkeley’s Taste of the Himalayas restaurant which today has become, as it does on the last Sunday of every month, Karma Kitchen — an experiment in generosity that began in Berkeley in 2007. People from around the world, mostly in their 20s and 30s, are sitting around the tables, eating and talking with animation. The volunteer staff, who seem to be mostly Indian, are also young people.

I recognize Chirag, a Silicon Valley software engineer who is one of today’s volunteer waiters. “Hi Aryae!” he says cheerfully as he walks up to greet me. “Would you like an individual table, or would you prefer to sit at one of these group tables?” Normally, as an older person in a room full of younger people, I’d prefer the privacy of an individual table.

“A group table would be great!” I say. A young woman comes up to take my order. “I’ll have a plate of this,” I say, pointing to one of the Indian dishes on the menu.

“Why limit yourself to just one item?” she says. “We have all the menu items family style at each table, but I can put some of each on your plate.!” Before I have time to comment, she’s off to the kitchen.

I introduce myself to a young couple across from me and to a couple of guys down the table, and before long we’re all talking at once. There are so many diverse cultures represented here, I feel like I’ve landed in an International Youth Hostel. The woman is a clinical social worker who works with autistic children; the man is a graduate student working as health and career counsellor in a volunteer clinic.

“Are you guys a couple?” I ask.

They smile at each other shyly. “We are dating,” he says.

“Yeah,” she says, “we met on a dating web site.”

Chirag walks up. “Why don’t you let me take your picture?” he says.

The three of us look at each other and shrug. “Sure!” I say, “why not?”
karma-2The food is delicious, and the conversation with new friends at the table is fun. Then comes the music, a guy with a guitar and a woman singing what sounds to me like Indian pop music. They get everyone involved clapping the rhythm.

The people in this room don’t feel like strangers; we feel like a big, global family.

Then comes the famous Karma Kitchen bill for the meal:
billI’m surprised to notice that the amount I want to contribute, to “pay-it-forward” to feed people who come after me, is more than I had thought.

On their web site it says:
“In keeping this chain going, the generosity of both guests and volunteers help to create a future that moves from transaction to trust, from self-oriented isolation to shared commitment, and from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance.”

That’s a lot to think about after lunch.
bye