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May 11, 2012 > Karma Kitchen

Karma Kitchen

Submitted By A.T. Seitz

On a sun-splashed, spring afternoon, young parents walked their children in strollers, couples ambled hand-in-hand at an aimless, Sunday-afternoon gait that says 'I'm relaxing' and cars glided past with open windows. Almost everyone noticed Snappy's Cafe (978 A Street, Hayward) was the focus of attention. Snappy's hosted the first Karma Kitchen in Hayward on April 15, 2012 and things were starting to buzz. By 3 p.m., most of the seats in the small, maroon-and-black-walled cafe were taken and the noise level rising.

Karma Kitchen is an experiment with a gift economy where goods and services are given without any strings attached; it is an economic system where the circulation of the gifts within the community results in growth - an increase in connections, stronger relationships and, in this context, hoarding actually decreases wealth. Tea, coffee, muffins, organic fruit, Smile Cards and information booklets were given to about 25 attendees who met with new and old friends.

At its core, a gift-economy is a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance and isolation to community. Experiments like Karma Kitchen collectively help shift the dominant, transactional paradigm, gently moving the mind from asking "Am I getting what I paid for?" or experiencing a feeling of being pushed aside to make way for the next paying customer. Its common principles are volunteerism, no pleas for funds and a view that these activities are not about changing the world but about doing small things to change oneself. With surprising consistency, it works in mysterious ways.

Half-an-hour before opening, the day's volunteers gathered for a moment of silence and orientation. "For me today is about trust," says one. "For me this is about our intention," said another. "This kitchen opens the hearts and minds of people to the idea of service and has a domino effect in the community," added another.

"Have you heard about Karma Kitchen?" asks Viral, one of the day's greeters, of a well-dressed lady who said she had learned of it from her daughter, who teaches Yoga, but asked for more information.

"Your food, today, has been paid for by someone before you; if you are so inclined, you're free to leave whatever you like when you're done. We work here as volunteers and provide this in the spirit of service," explained Shruti, a volunteer.

The day's guests spanned an entire spectrum from many curious first timers, who had never experienced a "gift economy," to long-time Hayward residents. Patrons of Karma Kitchen do not need to fight for the check at the end of a meal. There isn't one. Instead, the "guests" of this restaurant are handed a white envelope containing a card that states "In the spirit of generosity, someone who came before you made a gift of this food. We hope you will continue the circle of giving in your own way."

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