On Nov. 10, Midnight Kitchen (MK) celebrated 15 years of serving free, vegan lunches to the McGill community. The second floor of the SSMU building was swarmed with dinner guests: A line ran from the Madeleine Parent Room to the cafeteria as students eagerly awaiting their meals. A sense of camaraderie filled the air as mingling voices and uplifting music spilled out of the room.
Walking away with vegan tacos and birthday cake on their plates, groups of friends found places to sit and dive into their food. According to the MK regulars in attendance, this sense of community is one of the lunch provider’s defining traits. Sam Hull, U3 Arts, was one of the birthday party attendees. For him, the memories surrounding MK have kept him coming back for years.
“In second year, my friends started telling me about it […] and they just told me that it was a great opportunity to get free food, but also just that the social situations which it allowed were really great,” Hull said. “You just got to meet a lot of people who you would not have […] interacted with otherwise, and that it was just a really good community building thing on campus [….] I’ve been coming ever since.”
MK was founded in 2002 by McGill students who wanted to model an anti-capitalist market in which healthy food is affordable and accessible to everyone. It provides free meals from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and is accessible to anyone. It was designed to empower the community at McGill and to help students take control over their experiences with food as consumers.
According to Nat Alexander, a coordinator of the event, the cooperative has grown in many ways from what it was upon opening.
“To see the very genuine response and appreciation from people is awesome,” Alexander said.
Another aspect that seems to factor into MK’s longevity and success is its unique approach to food: It de-commodifies food by making it free and accessible to everyone, while providing a social context for people to meet over food.
“I really loved the mandate of anti-capitalism, and really anti-oppression,” Alexander said. “Building a sense of a community and a space where people can learn together and just grow over food.”
The enthusiasm was evident in the overwhelming turnout for the event. At the height of the night, the wait time reached 30 minutes just to reach the room in which the food was served. The crowd was insistent, though, and continued to pour in despite the long line.
“We didn’t expect this big of a turnout,” Alexander said. “We planned for about 80 people, but we definitely served over 250 at least.”
MK continues to grow and expand, both in their outreach and in popularity. They host a number of events throughout the year that keep them busy and broadening their customer base.
“I hope [MK is] here for 15 more [years],” Ryan Shah, U3 Arts, said.