It was one of those cold Melbourne days where the sun shines but the wind bites through your layers. My husband and I and a friend, Liz, stopped for lunch at a restaurant in St Kilda, Melbourne, called Lentil As Anything. The restaurant was a cosy haven from the weather, because in typical Melbourne fashion, the skies were becoming grey and threatening rain. We were seated and Liz told us the premise behind the restaurant as we looked through the menu. Nothing on the menu had set prices. You pay what you can, what you want, or what you think the food is worth. Lentil As Anything employs the long-term unemployed and the marginalised, trains them to cook or wait tables, giving them skills to enter the workforce again. The homeless and the poor could come and eat for free, the cost absorbed by others’ generosity. It was an intriguing idea. Could a business actually make a profit if they didn’t set prices?
The food was delicious, made even more so by being consumed in a haven from the wind with warm and welcoming décor and with the knowledge that our meal was not only benefiting our tummies, but also providing training for people who really needed a leg up. Seated nearby were men in suits, and a man with soup at the next table over who looked as though he’d spent some time on the streets. It was a place where the classes met and ate and went away satisfied. When it came time to leave, we paid for our meal into a contributions box. It was anonymous; no-one was checking whether we paid or not, and we felt physically warmed by the thought of our secret generosity.
A second experience, this time in Littleton, Colorado, at GraceFull café. It was late spring; the sun was shining, and the good vibes began in the carpark outside the converted cottage on the corner, where the garden was bursting with basil and chives destined for the plate. This time the menu had prices but you paid whatever you wanted or not at all, it didn’t matter. Any tips and donations in excess of the very modest prices were used to provide or top-up meals for those who couldn’t afford it and labelled, “Grace in Action.” The exposed brick wall, wooden floors and jars of wildflowers on each table gave the cafe a unique and homely feel, but nothing so inspiring as a panel on the wall tallying the total number of Volunteer Hours, Grace in Action Meals and Grace in Action Donations for the month as well as the tally Since Opening. The figures were staggering. While sipping your cappuccino, you could look up at the wall and feel a part of something big, something that benefitted the local community around you, all with a decision as easy as, “Where will I get my coffee today?”
I find something attractive in the idea that we can subvert the narrative that consumption is all about us and our needs. I think it can be about us and other people at the same time. And I think there must be more people out there who want to make wise decisions with their money and invest in people and community.
For this reason, we have decided to offer future issues of Continental Kids Magazine completely free. If you can’t afford to buy the magazine but think it would be beneficial for your kids, please add it to your cart, proceed to the checkout and download it with our blessing. You won’t be required to pay anything. If you can afford to pay, we are suggesting a donation of $3 per issue will help to cover the cost of the website, software, and the prizes used to create the magazine. If you want to make a bigger donation, we welcome that too! Our vision for the magazine was never to be a money-spinner but to create a sense of community for our far-flung children out of being able to contribute to something and read something created by kids just like them. Of course, if you or your children contribute to the magazine, we want you to download it for free as a thank you for your time.
So buy it, or just download it, we honestly don’t mind. We trust that it will be a helpful resource and that you enjoy it.