Solidarity Snapshot: Cole Carothers

Worker-Owner at Khao’na Kitchen

How did you get into this work? 

I moved to NYC in 2012 as a full time volunteer and organizer. I struggled to make ends meet and found myself trying to find the most filling, cheap and fast food I could get my hands on. Eating that way, unfortunately, took a huge toll on my physical and mental health and slowed my productivity and ability to organize way down. I began to notice similar patterns of behavior around food in my community and with the young people that I worked with. We began to have really honest discussions about food in New York City which blossomed into creating plans to change our food system, centered on justice and community food sovereignty. I was also able to relate my experiences growing up on a small farm in rural northern California and my work with farmers in the Philippines, which as an agricultural country, sees most of its rural population without land rights and labor protections against large-scale multinational corporations occupying land in the countryside.

Inspired by my community and the young people that I worked with and their resilience against toxic food systems, I sought out any space I could find to learn more about food justice and continued opening up spaces for my students and I to practice feeding our minds and spirits. In 2017, along with another teacher at the school, Shilpa, we decided to take these conversations and ideas to an education incubator program and applied the night before the application was due. We were accepted into the program and our worker cooperative, Khao’na Kitchen, has evolved into what it is today.

What does ‘solidarity economy’ mean to you?

To me solidarity means that my liberation is linked to the liberation of all peoples. When I think about connecting that word to economy, I am reminded of indigenous economies across the world that cooperatively shared wealth and resources with each other to thrive. However, I also know historical marginalization in the United States through corrupt colonial, imperialist and patriarchal government policies concentrated capital and resources (all over the world and in our backyard) into the hands of wealthy, usually white, hetero-patriarchal business owners. Therefore, practicing a genuine solidarity economy means dismantling these corrupt policies (read: red lining, colonization, etc) and supporting historically disenfranchised communities have access to capital and other resources usually denied, hidden, or manipulated away from them. Since learning about worker-cooperatives, I think it is so incredible they have the infrastructure to build wealth and knowledge that is concentrated in a collective, therefore creating their own sovereign economic practices that can provide those access points outside of the larger oppressive system. Solidarity economy also means buying from and uplifting businesses of color run by women, LGBTQ and working class people who have shown over and over again that their businesses are likely to be more environmentally sustainable, and create lasting impact for the better, in their communities.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this work?

One of the biggest challenges that I face in this work is my desire to do everything. I am a farmer, grassroots community organizer, educator, musician, chef and more. I have one million ideas about where we can take the cooperative and my community has many issues that are important to organize around. But losing focus on our mission and going beyond our capacity can be harmful to the sustainability of our cooperative. We can’t solve every issue, but we can organize with our allies, build alliances and coalitions that can get more people in the room to tackle more issues, together.

Why do you think it’s important for cooperatives to help other cooperatives?

This question reminded me of a quote by Filipino revolutionary, Marklen Maojo B. Maga, who is currently a political prisoner targeted for his worker organizing efforts. It goes; “Even though we took opposite paths, we met on the path toward revolution!” I think that it is important for cooperatives to help other cooperatives because simply, we are stronger and better together because we each bring a different level of experience and expertise to the table. We are in the midst of combatting a larger, capitalistic system that doesn’t always support alternative forms of resource building, so there is urgency to strengthen cooperatives and our communities with cooperatives. We will only succeed if we go beyond “competing” with one another and focus on building a true, just infrastructure that serves the needs and dreams of our communities. In our practices at Khao’na Kitchen, we look for every opportunity to partner with other cooperatives whether it’s from where our food is sourced, how we bank, who we contract and even who we serve.

What is your ‘theory of change’?

Organize! Organize! Organize! I can’t stress enough how powerful it is to build power collectively and use that power to win small and larger victories. Are you trying to wage a campaign against an environmental issue? Will you launch a series of workshops to better educate your neighborhood? Do you find yourself wanting to take direct action against an inhumane and unjust system? Everyone has a place in the revolution. Join a collective, join an organization, build and imagine your own systems of power and ally yourself with people who are doing similar work. Khao’na Kitchen is a proud member of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-US (ICHRP) where we uplift and organize around issues of human rights from the Philippines to New York City. In one of our recent campaigns, we boycotted a well known Filipino condiment company, NutriAsia, for their inhumane treatment of striking workers by removing their products from our inventory and committing to no longer using them in our food preparation.

Where can we find more information about the work you are doing in the future?

Check out the Khao’na Kitchen blogon our website, the Khao’na Kitchen Instagramand our workshops/events.

Khao’na Kitchen is a proud member of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), which has events and discussions that are open to the public.

You can check out my personal Instagram @_colejaimie, if you want to see my personal ramblings!

What is the best way for people to get involved and support your work?

  • Join Khao’na Kitchen for workshop and events!
  • Work with us as a worker owner!
  • Book us!
  • Collaborate with us!
  • Join ICHRP-US!
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