An Economy of Exchange

At the beginning of 2017 I took over the operation of a pay-what-you-can vegan lunch café here in the heart of meat-and-potatoes Midwest America. On December first, I gave myself a daily blogging challenge to write about this café, to tell its story, and maybe figure out a little of my own story in the process. This is Post #24.

I’ve taken the last week of the year off. Wished our customers a merry one and closed down the kitchen until January 2nd.

I bought a weekly pocket calendar, a monthly desk calendar. If past years are any indication, I’ll abandon both by April, but for now they feel like an invitation to imagine.

Yesterday I started making notes and little lists: what I liked about this first year, what I didn’t like, what I want to do more of, less of, what I want to not do at all. It’s my version of resolutions: resolved, to do what I like, to avoid what I don’t like, to find a way to like — appreciate, tolerate — what is unavoidable.

My first surprise: that I’m not eager to do more events.

I went into this project thinking the kitchen was part of a larger idea, the space a venue for all kinds of activities only tangentially related to food. I thought I wanted to host workshops and talks and readings and gatherings.


I found the hosting of events to be less than satisfying. Creatively draining. Unpredictable. Stressful. Distracting. Not fun.

What’s fun is to focus on the food. Surprise!

My second surprise: I like selling things.

Not just lunches, but cookies by the dozen, soup by the jar. I like the process, the interaction. I like the immediacy of it. I like making things that people want to buy. My friends joke about my little capitalist heart, but really, people, nobody here has capital. This ain’t capitalism. This is an economy of exchange.

Not as utopian as a gift economy, but practical, remunerative, satisfying.

I like it. It’s fun. Resolved: I’m going to keep doing it. See what happens.