Several generous globs of rice, Creole seafood gumbo, dipping biscuits, fresh salad and oh, don’t forget dessert — caramel-coated popcorn balls, a Louisiana delicacy.
Never mind that they’re served on disposables and utensils are scarce. Sitting cross-legged on the ground in HemisFair Park at Occupy San Antonio’s encampment, Marty “Mac” McMillan pronounced it “delicious!”
“It’s warm, home-cooked food made with love,” the 41-year-old disabled U.S. Navy veteran said, putting his lips to the foam bowl and scooping some up with a crab leg. “She wants to do this, and you can taste it, so we’re very lucky.”
“She” is G.M. Briggs, owner of Variety Fine Foods & Caterers, the self-appointed chief cook for the group that formed here one month ago as part of a nationwide wave of protests against America’s growing inequality of wealth and power.
The several-dozen permanent occupiers now expect Briggs to show up almost without fail on weekday evenings. They hustle to carry and help set up her two rice cookers and trays of Creole fare.
She’s hard to miss, but even so, they spread the word in their systematic way: with the words “Mic check!” cueing all to carefully repeat what is said so all can hear it.
“Mic check! … Mic check! If you haven’t gotten food … if you haven’t gotten food. Come over here … come over here.”
Clad in an “Occupy S.A.” apron and chef’s hat, Briggs, 63, said she was “here for the long haul.”
“They hug me, they kiss me, they treat me like gold and make me feel a part of this very important cause,” she said.
Dinner at the encampment, as a result, is often a gourmet affair. Breakfast and lunch, on the other hand, are rarely hot meals. The donations come mostly from nearby independently owned restaurants and occasionally from franchise operations, said John Simpson, 53, who’s taken it upon himself to coordinate food.
It might have something to do with the movement’s often-articulated fight against the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent, but Simpson said corporations tend to refer his requests to their central offices and so far haven’t donated a single ice cube.
“That is pretty much what we’re fighting against — the money doesn’t filter down to the people,” Simpson said.
Simpson will give a snack to stray homeless people, but he sleeps next to the food supply to keep gluttons out.
“I get up at 7 a.m. and don’t get to bed till 3 a.m. — and keep one eye open,” he said.
Always up for grabs, though, are items he puts out on the refreshment table, like peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches and produce from places like Green Vegetarian Cuisine.
“It’s better than what I normally would be eating at home because it’s fresh vegetables and fruit,” said Blake Markgraf, 21, unemployed since his seasonal job ended at 13th Floor Haunted House. Others, like retired electrician Julio Gonzales, 59, retreat to McDonald’s for comfort.
“If we were allowed to cook here, that would be great. I’d make egg benedicts for everyone,” he said, settling for a slice of vegan cake. “I just saw my doctor, and he said I lost eight pounds.”
What’s available in the pantry is a matter of concern for Briggs, a retired military nurse who is determined to upgrade the stock.
“I’m gonna make sure they get a bottle of multivitamins,” she said. “Because a lot of them are vegetarian, and I’m sure they’re not eating properly.”