Karma Kitchen & The Gift Economy

Karma Kitchen & The Gift Economy

Dec 05



Karma Kitchen

Karma Kitchen first opened in Berkeley on March 31st 2007, by several volunteers inspired to seed the value of a “gift economy”. Run by volunteers, their meals are cooked and served with love, and offered to the guest as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and sustain this experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them. In keeping this chain going, the generosity of both guests and volunteers helps to create a future that moves from transaction to trust, from self-oriented isolation to shared commitment, and from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance.


Greg’s First Time at Karma Kitchen
November 23, 2011

Original Link

Last Sunday was Greg’s first time at Karma Kitchen. While dining with a large table-of-nine group, he casually comments that he loves the Karma Kitchen t-shirt sported by his server. True to KK tradition, we arrange to tag him with an extra tee that we had in the back! Of course, there’s no charge since it is a gift. And somehow, this is the tipping point that just blows him away.

Almost immediately, he opens up his backpack and takes out two fifty dollar gift-cards for EBay and says, “Well, I’d like to gift this to Karma Kitchen.” Wow. Really. Excited volunteers decide to step it up even further. “Instead of KK, what if you just gift it to two random tables in the restaurant, right now?” they ask Greg. He loves the idea but is uneasy about making the gift himself, so we make an easier proposition: “How ’bout two volunteers deliver it to two tables, and you can anonymously observe?” Everyone is all smiles about that idea.

Sure enough, two volunteers approach two unknown tables and explain: “At Karma Kitchen, we often tag people with small gifts. And people’s cup of gratitude often overflows. We don’t always know where that’ll overflow but just now, someone in the restaurant gifted us this $50 gift card to give away to a KK guest. So this is for you. Please pay it forward as you are moved.”

A couple on one table is just visibly stunned, as one of them puts a hand on her heart with teary eyes; on the other table, a mother decides to use it to teach her six-year-old (also on the table) about generosity. The energy on both of those tables is palpably elevated, as Greg and his whole table watch from a distance.
Generosity has done its magic again.

An unconditional gift always begets another gift. Here’s to more than 20,000 volunteer hours that have kept Karma Kitchen alive as a context to practice that kind of generosity!


Commonly Asked Questions

Original Link

Who pays for my meal at Karma Kitchen?

At Karma Kitchen your meal has been paid for by someone who came before you. Since it’s a gift, you can’t pay them back — but you can pay-it-forward by making a contribution that will allow future guests to experience the same generosity. It is this circle of giving that allows Karma Kitchen to keep going.

Who runs Karma Kitchen?

Karma Kitchen is run by a dynamic group of volunteers that assembles at the restaurant each week to practice generosity through the simple act of serving a meal. Among them are teachers, artists, doctors, students, grandmothers, engineers and activists; people often come back to serve but it’s never the same crew twice! Formally, Karma Kitchen is a project of CharityFocus, a unique nonprofit organization that ignites and supports small expressions of service through technology.

How is Karma Kitchen faring?

At this time, Karma Kitchen is able to sustain itself through guest contributions; any surplus that is received goes towards supporting an array of gift-economy/generosity projects that work towards a common good. Many of the special items you see on the Kindness Table are made available through these projects.

How Can I Get Involved?

Volunteering at Karma Kitchen is a great way to get involved. Sign up and we’ll send you more information. Share your experience as a guest with friends and family who you think would resonate with the concept — we’d love to serve them too! Ultimately Karma Kitchen is a platform for expressing generosity, so if you have any pay-it-forward ideas that you’d like to share with us, feel free to reach out.

What is the gift economy?

In a gift economy, goods and services are given without any strings attached; it is an economic system where it is the circulation of the gifts within the community that leads to increase — increase in connections, increase in relationship strength; in this context, hoarding actually decreases wealth. At its core, gift-economy is a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community.


Other Projects Embracing This Model

In the recent years, there have been an increasing number of pay-as-you-wish restaurant sightings around the globe! While Karma Kitchen is subtly different in its pay-it-forward as-you-wish model, these experiments are collectively helping shift the dominant, transactional paradigm:

Better World Cafe – a community kitchen in New Jersey.
Gift-Economy Cab – in Vermont, a cab driver steps it up!
Honesty Cafes – 7,456 of them across Indonesia!
Cafe Kafee Kucch – Chandigarh, India
One World Spokane – no menu, no prices in Washington.
City Cafe Bakery (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada)
Wine Bar (Berlin, Germany)
No Food Restaurant (King City)
Annalakshmi (Singapore, Malaysia, India)
Lentil As Anything (many branches in Australia)
One World Everybody Eats (Salt Lake City, Utah)
SAME (“So All May Eat” — Denver, Colorado)
TerraBite (Seattle)
Made with Love Cafe (New Orleans)
Mother’s Kitchen (Across USA)
Krishnan (Madurai, India)
Seva Cafe (Ahmedabad, India, also in LA for six months)
Wednesdays (Santa Clara, CA)
Vimala Cooks, Everybody Eats (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)


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