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A while back, I read an article in a magazine talking about a small start-up in Colorado – a restaurant that didn’t have fixed prices for their meals.  People could come, order from a relatively limited menu of healthy, organic-type items, and then pay what they were able as they left.  People who couldn’t pay at all weren’t summarily shot or anything.  Rather, they were encouraged to volunteer some time to pay off their meal, assisting around the restaurant.  Those who could afford to pay, were encouraged to pay what they felt the meal was worth.

The basic concept is fleshed out a bit more in One World Everybody Eats.   The basic idea is that food should never be a part of an economic system wherein some are unable to eat due to lack of funds.  Other ideas are closely related.   Everyone deserves access to nutritious food.  People are basically honest and should be treated that way.  Organic eating should be encouraged.  There’s too much waste in the food industry due to the massive portions that are doled out to help justify ever increasing prices.
My wife and I find this whole approach fascinating.  First off, it helps (theoretically, of course, and depending on location and menu) to bring a potentially dizzying cross-section of the population together around a meal.  The homeless person could be sitting a table away from a corporate VP on her lunch break.  This in turn helps to break down socio-economic walls wherein we intrinsically avoid those deemed too far below our socio-economic strata.  This has the potential to create powerful new understandings of community.  It encourages people to recognize that these days, time is probably more valuable than money, and exchanging some time to help out could be every bit as valuable as swiping a debit card.  
This idea of not charging for a particular meal appears to have caught on in a variety of quarters, such as a London restaurant described in this article.  However here, the idea doesn’t necessarily seem to be centered on the same ideas.  And there’s the rather interesting aside that many people are paying *more* than what the dish would actually be priced at, since nobody wants to seem chintzy when getting a nice meal.  This restaurant is also doing this on a temporary basis, and is undoubtedly a much higher-end sort of cuisine than what you’d typically find in a OWEE type of establishment.  
Still, it’s interesting to see how different folks respond to massive shifts in financial security.  Food seems to hold so much power within it for creating far more than it provides.  It’s a shame we take it so easily for granted.

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