But We’ll Go Home Be Bearna

I have books and time to spend
I have soul and I have friends
I have a home and I have food and
Still I have a bad fucking attitude.

Difference Bedlam Rovers

The healthcare debate is such transparently stupid bullshit I’m practically speaking in tongues. Fortunately, while I %@%#)%&@_% and %&@)%!^% $%&!!, other people are saying doing smart things.

A Better World Cafe, housed in an historic brick church, is the fifth restaurant of its kind in the nation, which some are nicknaming “Robin Hood restaurants.”

The original socially conscious eatery was opened in Salt Lake City in 2003 by a former acupuncturist and advocates of the concept hope it will revolutionize eating out.

“It’s about how we’re going to need to change our systems if we’re going to survive as a planet,” said Tina Weishaus, a board member of Who is My Neighbor? The community group based in the Reformed Church of Highland Park co-owns the not-for-profit restaurant with Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick soup kitchen and culinary school.

Besides the lack of official prices — only suggested fares — the eatery uses mostly food from local farms and no plastic or Styrofoam. It also composts all food scraps and acts as a community forum by hosting talks and live performances by local artists.

Three blocks from my house: yay!

The Highland Park restaurant opened its doors Oct. 21. The simple dining room, with communal tables and metal chairs, has attracted roughly 50 to 125 customers a day, head chef Rachel Weston said. Three paid staff and volunteers serve food from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Advertising has been minimal: there’s no sign for the cafe in the front of the church.

Listed each day on a dry erase board is a menu of roughly a dozen items that change every week or so, with suggested prices. One item, the “complimentary community entree,” is free to everyone. On Thursday the free dish was curried pumpkin chick peas over rice.

A person who can’t pay anything is allowed to eat only the “community entree,” but can volunteer at the cafe for an hour to get a bigger meal with more choices. Weston said all patrons are encouraged to volunteer, to think, for example, “What if I came back and baked bread, or played the piano?”

Supper: you can sing for it!

ustomer Kathleen Logue, 49, said she has been unemployed for two years. But she still paid $6, more than the suggested combined price of $1.50 for a cup of Moroccan tomato consomme and $3 for a medium slice of roasted tomato and Swiss cheese quiche.

“There are people worse off than me,” she said.

Highland Park is an ideal town to host the novel restaurant, said Weishaus, with a mixed-income population that includes residents of housing projects as well as Rutgers University professors. The borough also boasts of progressive policies such as promoting fair-trade products at local stores.

The seed of the idea for A Better World Cafe was planted in January, said Lisanne Finston, executive director of Elijah’s Promise. She was giving a talk at the Highland Park church – commenting that the richest nation in the world should not have to have soup kitchens – when someone in the audience mentioned the new dining venture in Salt Lake City.

That’s the kind of concrete, direct action I need to see and support. It can happen near you, too.

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