Louise | 14.07.2005 12:29 | G8 2005
The raison d’etre of this joint Anglo-Dutch collective is feeding the thousands of demonstrators who've converged on the campsite from all over the globe. The knives they wield are certainly not offensive weapons, they’re cooking implements, a necessity when chopping enough vegetables to feed a Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, plus all the other thousands of gathered protesters.
The Netherlands-based Rampen Plan have been catering for activists for around 25 years at events such as anti-nuclear protests to more general anarchists' gatherings. Around 10 people have organised the catering logistics for the rural campsite, supported by countless volunteers, but the scale of this undertaking is not the only difference between this and previous events.
On Wednesday, 6 July, in the kitchen marquee and its environs, scenes were more like a surreal mixture of protest and festival played out on the set of Apocalypse Now. While life on the site has also been likened to participating in an episode of M*A*S*H, the whup whup thundering of British army Chinooks above our heads was more reminiscent of the seminal Vietnam war movie.
The soundtrack here, however, is not provided by The Doors. Instead, you might find yourself listening to French anarcho-punk during one visit, and banjo-playing 'Uncle Jessie' from New York the next.
Uncle Jessie said he "doesn't believe in half of the stuff" in his native America, where he'd sold his televisions, bought a banjo, and set off on a cycling tour of Scotland. He was impressed with the chickpea and spinach curry he'd been served free of charge as a token of appreciation for the entertainment he'd provided. “Being free, it tasted even better!,” he laughed.
He described with wry amusement his experiences of the UK outside the camp. He'd been stopped by the police and asked what he was doing in Scotland, to which he replied he was looking for the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Uncle Jessie had both a sense of a humour and a far better chance of catching sight of Nessie than of his own president, George W Bush, who’s in seclusion, inaccessible to his compatriot who’s trying to give voice to his opinions about injustices.
A veteran campaigner against injustices, and a late arrival the previous evening, Matthias from Germany had been too late to participate in any of this day’s actions and wanted to do something useful while waiting to join in activities the next day. He’d participated in G8 protests before at Gothenburg and Genoa and was keen to get out and about.
While frustrated at seemingly ‘wasting’ a day on camp, Matthias said he was motivated in his cutting and peeling of carrots. “Thinking of my affinity with those in the mountains, all this,” he said, while waving the knife and carrot in his hands in the direction of the boxes of vegetables surrounding him, “helps them do their actions.”
Someone taking a brief break from protesting out in the rain and cold was Steph from Glasgow. She’d been demonstrating at an oil refinery the previous day, and had then been out overnight, braving the elements in a field before joining the groups blockading the routes used by G8 delegates to get to the Summit. “The mission to get back to the camp was as difficult as getting there,” she commented, describing the police blockades and searches that had prevented people from leaving the areas police were supposedly trying to clear.
While chopping her way through cases of tomatoes for the day’s freshly made chutney, Steph explained it was her first time at such an event, “I can’t just ignore the situation any more, it’s wrong.”
Steph was especially concerned about climate change and wanted to get involved, “I came to learn stuff,” to which end she’d attended some on site workshops given by student environmental group People and Planet. She also felt it was important to give something back as well, to pitch in and help with the tasks involved in the running of the camp, which was how she’d ended up standing at a table in a field chopping tomatoes along with another volunteer.
Will had travelled up from London and was very impressed by the very diverse and representational gathering. “Yes,” Steph chipped in, “it’s very international, I guess maybe 20 per cent Scottish/English, and there’s people from Spain, Bulgaria, Belgium, Italy, all over the world. And there’s a wide age range, tons of kids, lots of older people.”
“It’s the whole deal, it’s built on trust, people are very trusting,” said Will. “If you have something, you share, if you need, people will give. I’m not aware of any crime, it’s a most peaceful environment.” At which point, right on cue, as if to contradict him, another Chinook made a low-level pass, around 200 feet above heads, drowning out his words. After the army helicopter had passed, he said “When they get low, it gets scary.” Steph agreed with him and added “And they’re getting lower.” “And the noise!,” Will exclaimed.
Matthias, Will and Steph were among the numerous casual volunteers who helped out and without whom the catering couldn’t have happened. But for those more involved with the collective, it had been a test of endurance, keeping the kitchen open 24 hours a day for the past one and a half days as people had been leaving in the early hours to take part in the day’s actions and returning, cold and bedraggled late at night. So what awaited them on their return?
A typical day’s menu involved a breakfast of bread with vegan spread, jams, peanut butter and yeast extract spread, plus muesli and freshly extracted soya milk. The tea, coffee, sugar and other ingredients were organic and fair trade wherever possible.
Two types of soup were on offer for lunch, meat-free minestrone-style with tomatoes & noodles, and carrot & lentil, both served with bread and beverages. Packed lunch sandwiches were a DIY affair and in addition to the breakfast-time spreads, freshly made sandwich fillings were on offer along with salads, including the most delicious hummus and an extremely tasty, garlicky red bean paste.
The chutney for which Will and Steph were chopping tomatoes was to be an accompaniment to the dinner of chick pea & spinach and potato & vegetable curries, being served with rice plus cabbage salad. The curries were being cooked up in pans bigger than I’ve ever seen in any commercial restaurant kitchen even. There’s a row of gas burners at floor level, fuelled by gas bottles, upon which there’s a row of what can only be described as industrial-sized pans that, according to one of the European collective members, have a capacity of around 350 litres.
As to what gets cooked up in the pans more generally, sceptical non-vegans wondering what a vegan diet consists of other than tofu and bean sprouts could have eaten frequently on site, impressed by the variety of menus, Indian-style, Italian, Thai, Eastern European meat-free borsht/goulash style dishes without realising they were unwittingly eating vegan food. I understand a recipe book is available, but so many people must have found the dishes so delicious and wanted to recreate them at home that all that was left, by the time I arrived, was a little notice detailing the £1 price tag, had they not already sold out.
The Dutch collective assistant explained that they are also able to cater for various diets, such as gluten free and, being vegan, they were already lactose free.
Which reminds me, ‘free’ is more generally the policy of the collective when it comes to feeding people who don’t have the means to pay for their meal. There’s a general price list of 50 pence for breakfast, £1 for lunch and £1.50 for dinner, but no one genuinely unable to pay would be turned away and refused a meal.
The flip side of this is that donations are very gratefully accepted. Those who can afford to pay more are very much encouraged to do so as there’s a significant outlay – around £18,000 and rising - to running a kitchen of this size and it’s a challenge to even recoup the advance costs associated with purchasing supplies and ingredients. Any volunteers to rattle a collection tin?