The Metropolitan Region’s quarantine has left many families without proper food supply. In response, residents resurrected an institution called “Olla Común” – roughly, ‘Community Cooking Pot’ – with which they cook in public and share the food with families in need. Chile Today presents an overview of the history of the Olla Común.
Many low-income families in Santiago rely on informal employment so the pandemic-related quarantine has hit them hard. While the government supports this segment with food boxes and small monthly payments, access to food remains problematic. And although the Olla Común cannot solve a political and social problem, it can alleviate it.
Olla Común emerged during the great depression and is like a communal kitchen, run by neighbors and supplied with food donations.
In the 1920s, Chile’s economy was booming thanks to massive public spending and foreign investment pouring into the northern mines, leading to the blossoming of many mining towns.
But in 1929 the global economy crashed. Chile was hit especially hard because the Carlos Ibáñez del Campo administration had accumulated public spending-related debt, and because the local economy relied so much on foreign investment. As the northern mining towns crumbled, workers moved to major cities further south. This internal migration put pressure on wages and housing, worsening urban living conditions.
In 1931, Ibáñez del Campo resigned and triggered a political crisis that left citizens out in the rain – hence they began organizing Ollas Comúnes. Soon these community pots dotted every major city and hungry Chileans queued up.
After a painful period, economic conditions improved and the Ollas Comúnes disappeared – for a while.
The economic collapse of 1982 triggered unemployment of nearly 30% and led to massive protests. In response, the Pinochet dictatorship ramped up suppression, again pushing large parts of the population out into the cold.
And again the Olla Común popped up in marginal neighborhoods. But this time it also turned into a political instrument, signifying dissent. Dictatorship opponents gathered around the communal pots, which not only made poverty visible, but also an economic system that failed to provide for many citizens.
Most importantly, women – the key force in Chilean society – organized the pots from within communities to decrease reliance on outside support. Their formula was “Hunger + Dignity = Community Pot.”
While during the social uprising hunger was still not a driver, women used the Olla Común as a vehicle for female empowerment, underlining the creativity and initiative with which women have always influenced society, even in the face of savage opposition.
The emergence of feminist Ollas Comúnes during the protests enabled women to help each other and strengthen their sense of community.
Other communal pots were organized at protest ground zero, Plaza Italia (now commonly referred to as Dignity Square), to support protesters. But low-income neighborhoods where the protests affected livelihoods also set up Ollas Comúnes to keep residents going.