Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Karma Kitchen: An Experiment In Gratitude

by john robertson (writer), Minneapolis, MN, March 02, 2009


Who says beggars can't be choosy?





One of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons is when Bart is asked to say grace before dinner and he quite eloquently proclaims, "Dear god, we paid for all of this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing."

Of course Bart wasn't wrong. His family did work hard for the money and so they in fact provided their own damn groceries, didn't they? Well, what Bart was missing, and most folks in America these days, is that none of us could be who we are and where we are without the contributions of so many others.

Who planted and grew the rice? Who harvested it? Who shipped it to America? What was given and taken to create one meal? Who benefits the most from all of this hustle and bustle and sweat and blood?

Karma Kitchen, in its own humble way, seeks to address this lack of interconnectedness and leave the diner with a sense of gratitude and generosity.

Our handsome waiter seated Kelly C and her spouse, Angela B, and myself and explained that the previous party had made for us a gift of this meal we were about to be given. At the end of the meal, if we wished, we could pay it forward to a future guest by leaving an anonymous contribution in an envelope provided.

We were served five courses of vegetarian Indian food with a choice of buttered or non-buttered naan, and our beverage choices were mango lassis or "lemon sparkle surprise". All but one of us were intrigued to find out what the surprise was in the lemon sparkle, and we were pleased to be drinking lemon juice, pomegranate juice and blueberry juice made a little more refreshing by adding sparkling mineral water.

The food itself was fresh and organic and presented well. However, it was the mildest Indian food any of us have ever had in our lives. As we sampled each dish, all served in only the most modest of portions, we found ourselves talking in near whispers to one another.

"This isn't very spicy for a curry dish."

"Hmm. This is bland."

"Did everybody get one meager spoonful of the garbanzo beans? There is one meager spoonful left."

Why were we whispering like beggars? We certainly were not beggars. All four of us went with the express intention of "paying it forward", but yet we felt somehow as if we were on the receiving end of charity and we should not be choosy. Somehow by agreeing to engage in this experiment in gratitude we felt pressured to leave our criticisms at the door.

Our handsome waiter, a volunteer for the day, returned to our table to refill our water glasses. We immediately stopped talking and smiled at him.

"Is everything to your satisfaction?" He asked.

"Oh yes. Yes, it's great!" We told him.

As soon as he left we started in again.

Having gotten over the fact that we didn't care much for the meal we moved onto the conundrum of "paying it forward"; the emphasis being on the "payment".

"Personally, I am not going to pay more than it would have cost me to have a lunch special at any other Indian restaurant on this street," I said evenly. "I think that is reasonable."

 "Well, the portions were much smaller than any lunch special I've ever had anywhere" Kelly C. pointed out.

"The food was pretty boring," Angela B put it bluntly.

Just then the waiter returned to our table and took our dessert orders. They had cherry pie, peach pie, or rice pudding. Once the desserts arrived, and we dug in, the creases were erased from our brows as we had finally found what we were grateful for. Kelly C's other half bit into a cherry pit, and the tone of the meal was permanently changed.

"It's a pit," he said at first with wonder. Then , he repeated it again with delight. "Look," he said while showing off the pit he had removed from his mouth. "It's a home made pie. I thought it tasted home made. They accidentally left a pit in there!"

Suddenly Kelly C. adored her pie too.

"This pie is very, very good. The crust is so flakey."

Angela B and I lit up as well. We looked at each other and raved about the rice pudding.

"I love the tapioca mixed in with it," I told her.

"What is that spice?" Angela pondered. "Is it cardamom? It's really a nice touch."

The waiter returned with the envelope, and now he looked even more handsome than ever. Hell, I was ready to propose marriage, or a motel room at least; my treat!

Today the four of us were grateful, because we allowed ourselves to be placed in the position of a recipient, which in turn made us feel indebted.

As Americans, we are unaccustomed to repaying the kindness of others. Cows we will never meet die for us. Mexicans we will someday deport pick our produce. Plants we will never know of go extinct so we can build tract housing and golf courses.

For a few moments today, despite our little voices, we felt confused and awkward about being obligated to repay the restaurant’s kindness. We were aware that the cooks and bus boys and waiters were all volunteers raising money for charitable causes. However, as it dawned on us just how much work was put into our meal, obligation was replaced with gratitude. All at once we felt interconnected with the people who made this meal possible. In turn, our social tie was strengthened at that moment and we wanted to also do our part.

Suffice it to say when we filled the envelope we were being generous.

Karma Kitchen is a successful experiment. It is more than just a nutritious meal, or a vegetarian hipster hot spot: it is an experience which teaches us that we are all dependent on each other and it is gratitude which will enable us to start finding ways to give back goodness to the world and to one another.










About the Writer

john robertson is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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