May 2014 - Stone Soup Cafe: Community Meals Go Green
The Stone Soup Cafe, an almost wholly volunteer organization, has revolutionized the way it offers their "pay-what-you -can" meal every Saturday at noon at All Souls Church. When the Cafe started a year and a half ago, it was serving 35-50 people on a given day, in a plain dining area, using Styrofoam trays and plastic cutlery and cups. Now they have transformed into an elegant restaurant with table linens, flowers, silverware, paper plates, napkins, paper take home packages, and paper cups, all compostable, and are also composting all the dining room food waste as well. After just one month of switching to silverware and paper supplies, they were able to lower their trash from a 50-gallon industrial trash can to a 13-gallon bin.
“We want our guests to feel welcomed, validated and special”, said Kirsten Johl-Levitt, Head Chef of the Cafe. “I look for any and every occasion to make each meal a celebration of our World's cuisine, cultures, and celebrations. Switching to tablecloths and flatware is not only environmentally responsible, it makes the guests feel like they are important and they can relax over a plate of organic and nutritious food, cooked with love and care. Having decorations, flowers and candles are all part of setting the tables each week for our community celebration. The dining experience in many ways is like a huge family event, with folks stopping to visit with one another before and after they get to know their table mates."
Many members of the leadership team of the Cafe felt strongly that it was environmentally suspect and not financially sustainable to keep purchasing plastic containers and cutlery. So Aggie Mitchkoski, Cafe Manager and Kirsten as Head Chef put the wheels in motion to bring the Cafe even more in line with their ideals by making the Cafe Green. “Being compatible with our environment is the main thing” said Aggie. “We want every person who comes to the Cafe to know that their choices and our choices make a difference in the quality of our relationship to the planet. How we treat the planet is no different than how we treat each other. We don’t like to be trashed and neither does the planet. What kind of community do we want to be? We choose to be a community in perpetuity in support of the environment that supports us.”
Stone Soup Cafe gets much of its food from local farms, the Food Bank and donations from Foster’s and other supermarkets in the area. The Cafe is designed to reduce hunger while bringing together people from diverse backgrounds in a spirit of mutual support, inviting and honoring the varied contributions of all. It seeks to blur the dichotomy between people serving and being served. All contribute. All are served. This resonates with the story of Stone Soup, in which villagers contribute all types of vegetables to a communal stew. People pay as they can for the meal and those who can’t pay contribute in other ways by volunteering their time and skills, offering a listening ear at the table, sharing their music, networking, caring for the children present or sharing their stories at Council which follows the meal.
Learning how to compost, practicing conservation of energy in many forms, and respecting the environment in all its diversity are values that are now imbedded in this community meal. For these reasons, Greening Greenfield honors Stone Soup Cafe as its May Green hero of the Month.