Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Three Kitchens

My third venue for being a kitchen hand through an agency was one I had not considered as a possibility when wondering where I might find myself. Nursing home, check. Mining camp, check. And now, army barracks.

When I got the call I was a bit confused. Yes, America and Australia are allies. And yes, we did just send them a couple thousand marines to beef up operations on the north coast. But still I hadn’t expected an opportunity to work on military ground.

Arriving at the gate, the guard already knew my name. Apparently they’d been expecting me. Yet they were still friendly and jovial in the exchange. Australia’s laid back approach to things apparently even permeates the military. After living in post-9-11 America, the concept of a relaxed military completely floored me.

The work itself was easy. The barracks usually hold under a hundred personnel, but many were out in the bush training, so numbers were down around twenty. A cook prepared the food. Another kitchen worker helped with prep and helped with cleaning. And I cleaned whatever was available as soon as I could for lack of anything else to do. (Also, I peeled potatoes for an hour. I felt like a cliché.)

The three kitchen hand gigs have all been different, and to a large degree in exactly the way one might expect.

The nursing home required dishing up food for each resident, paying close attention to dietary restrictions and creating trays that contained the precise meals and drinks that each resident was told to get. And after meal-time, I scrubbed dishes full of food that had barely been touched. The food was simple but decent, and the whole thing felt like working in an elementary school kitchen with the added grim specter of death looming large.

The mining camp required scrubbing pots, rinsing plates, cleaning the cafeteria, and running out fresh trays of food. This is an 800 person operation out here, and the numbers say it all. Food trays are demolished. Chafing dishes and mixing bowls are steadily fed to the pot scrubber for hours. Dirty plates form mountains of porcelain to be run through a conveyor-belt dishwasher so that they can be run out again. The work is just as mindless as the other kitchen gigs, but the motion is constant. Given that the site is in the middle of a desert and next to an oil refinery, the fact that the kitchen has any semblance of order is impressive. We are at a constant war with entropy, and we’ve reached a stalemate. And given that this is the only one of the three venues where the attendees are here of their own free will, the food (and pay) are what entice workers past the remoteness of the location and the complete lack of things to do.

The army barracks required the same actions as the mines, but on a smaller scale. The flow of dishes was a trickle. And since those eating here were in the military and not the private sector, the food was prepared on a much more restricted budget and held to a standard that easily avoided mutiny but did not remotely approach the level of “a perk.” But, as is to be expected from a military kitchen, the place was organized and very neat. There was a system.

All in all, I’m liking the kitchen work. And I’m doing enough of it that I can figure out what I do and don’t like. I’m starting to have prefereces.

I prefer not to be depressed when working, so nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, and the like are out.

I like having things to do. I’m being paid to work, and if I have to be on shift and ready to go, I’d rather be doing something than standing around staring at the walls.

I want to meditate. I’ve tried the sitting still, quietly, and clearing my mind of thoughts. I’m not good at it. But in a kitchen, scrubbing pots, moving dishes through a cleaning line, I find a routine. My body goes on autopilot and I can let my mind relax. I find peace through active meditation. My brain runs in the background and I am happy. Once I know what I’m doing and can just go ahead with it, the kitchen becomes a haven.

One comment on “Three Kitchens

  1. squaffy
    May 19, 2012

    Great read, as usual! You really do have a gift for writing.

    Glad to hear you’re finding peace with active meditation. I think that’s becoming quite popular, as more people seek the reflection or release. Gardening and fishing come to mind for other people I know :P.

    Also, interesting to hear of your experiences… I’m curious to know what the enticing food is in the mining camp.

    Best of luck for time to come– and also, yes, hope to catch you again in Melbourne at some stage.

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2012 by in Australia, South Australia (Adelaide).

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