If Oakland is the Left Coast’s version of Brooklyn, then West Oakland is the “Harlem of the West.”
Against a backdrop of vacant victorians, street walkers and spray paint are urban gardens and intentional communities (read: hippie communes). With good intentions and the follow through to support idealistic visions lies The People’s Kitchen in West Oakland, a free Sunday Dinner.
Funded by discarded farmer’s market produce, excess bounty from the Western Service Workers Association, dented or returned Food Bank cans and one housemates EBT Food Stamps card, The People’s Kitchen of Oakland is truly a kitchen of, by and for The People.
Housed in a gloriously detailed, formerly gauche currently shabby chic old multi-level home in West Oakland (723 27th Street, Oakland) the dinners are most assuredly a bright spot on sometimes scary 27th Street.
When I arrived Anastasia and Paul, the chef’s for the day were busy preparing a vegetarian meal to be gifted out to the community. There were gluten free components, vegan portions and everything was organic. The 6pm dinner is an alcohol and drug-free event. Doors open in the early evening and the homeless, the dealers, the struggling artists and surrounding neighbors are invited inside to share a sit-down meal at a community table (or perched on a couch in the living room depending on the day’s turn out).
Chai is a weekly staple as are Indian spices. Cardamom and Garam Masala featured prominently in the meal I observed. The meals are hearty with lots of rice and potatoes. Founders Caroline Herlehy and Adley Penner founded The People’s Kitchen in 2012 after falling in love with Karma Kitchen, a North Berkeley Community Dinner held at Taste of the Himalayas. When Karma Kitchen ended, Penner and Herlehy envisioned an Oakland Outpost where no one would be turned away for a weekly home-cooked meal. The two committed to a year of Sunday Dinners and brought in a cast of friends, neighborhood volunteers and homeless advocates.
A weekly schedule posted on the house fridge denotes upcoming menus. And while Penner and Herlehy are biking to Mexico, a handy How-To guide with recipes, instructions and kitchen protocol circulates easily through guest chef teams and their volunteers.
To get involved, stop by The People’s Kitchen any Sunday afternoon between 4pm and 9pm.