Pink Peacock: Glasgow's queer, Yiddish anarchist cafe
The duo behind Glasgow's queer, Yiddish pay-what-you-can cafe Pink Peacock on community power, mutual aid, and bringing delicious Jewish food to the people of the Southside
Pink Peacock is a queer, Yiddish, anarchist, pay-what-you-can café, soon to open a physical space in Glasgow's Southside. During lockdown, Morgan Holleb and Joe Isaac delivered food to homes across the city; over video chat, the duo talk us through the project. [Some answers (and questions) have been edited for clarity.]
The Skinny: I suppose a good place to start would be kind of just talk a bit about the idea behind Pink Peacock because it's quite big. I feel that for when people read about it in the mag, they'll be excited and interested, but I think there's quite a few things to unpack within it. So if you maybe just want to talk me through a bit of the kind of background on the kind of project and the thinking behind it.
Morgan Holleb: It's a queer Yiddish anarchist cafe, which will be alcohol free and open late and is also vegan, and we're hoping to get certified for kosher and halal. So that's a lot of different things. But the reason why we've decided on all those... oh God it's pay-what-you-can, that's actually that's the most important thing! The reason why we've settled on centering all of those things is because there is a community need for all of them. There's there isn't a space that is like that anywhere in Glasgow.
Joe Isaac: Yeah, we can echo what you mentioned about the other place in Edinburgh [Greenwood, read more about them here] in that there's a noticeable need from sober queer spaces. And that ethos is just... apply that to all the other identities that are there. They've all come about from things that we have noticed a need for, either because we need them or because you notice the community has a need for them.
MH: We got the idea for doing it, we were inspired by Category Is, the queer bookshop in the Southside. Fi and Charlotte who run it are lovely and absolute, like power babes, they have made nothing short of a community hub. And it was really obvious just right from go how necessary queer community spaces are that aren't centred around alcohol or clubbing. So we just wanted to add to that, like, through a cafe space that had food for people. And we're going to be open late. So after Category Is closes, people can come to our place!
JI: On that topic, [the] queer community is very big and it's a very big and diverse community right, and a diversity of spaces to fill the different... I guess I'm trying to say that those queer nightclubs and queer bars and stuff, they obviously do serve a community purpose and they have a place within the community. But that can't be all there is, because like if you're a minor or if you're just dry for whatever reason, like you still deserve access to community.
MH: The pay-what-you-can stuff is probably our most important, central feature. We had the idea for doing the cafe about a year ago, and we were planning on trying to open in the spring but then the 'Rona hit. So instead of trying to open a physical space, we decided to do food deliveries, and we made a bunch of vegan Jewish food out of our kitchen in our flat.
JI: Usually we delivered them house to house.
MH: Yeah, we delivered them house to house across South Glasgow. And all of the prices were pay-what-you-can. So people filled out an order form, and then they were given the break-even price, and then they could decide how much they wanted to pay us. They were given a PayPal link, or they paid us in cash. That was a real success, we weren't sure how that was going to go. We weren't sure if we were going to make our costs, or if we were going to be, like, really far under and just giving away loads of free food. And we did give away lots of free food, but we also got a lot of solidarity from the community and wider communities as well internationally. We know we got some money from America from Canada and we got some money in euros. So that obviously came from Europe...
JI: We had a real emphasis on COVID precautions as well, which meant that we could deliver to some people who were self-isolating.
MH: So our main thing is about feeding people and about making food accessible and making luxury accessible to people, making it nice. There's such a... like... capitalism is so fucking shit. It makes it hard for people to not only like access their basic needs, but if someone needs community support, it's really hard for them to access it in a way that's dignified. And we just think it's really unfair. So, we're making a space where people can come and get food and it will be really nice food doesn't matter how much they pay us for it! Yeah, that's the idea.
The Skinny: I suppose that kind of comes on to something that you said in an interview with Vashti, of getting away from the idea that if people come in to a venue, they need to buy something in order to sort of justify their presence within it, which I think is really interesting, particularly in light of the kind of mainstream discussion in the last few months, that people have to 'get out and buy' in order to keep things going. What you're doing is really in contrast to this kind of very kind of neoliberal idea that there has to be a cost barrier to even going to sit in somewhere. This feels like a good strong reaction to that kind of ethos.
MH: Absolutely. I mean, rather than 'Eat Out to Help Out' it should be 'Eat the Rich to Help Out'. I mean, [Joe] put it really well in the Vashti interview about how we want people to have a place where they can just exist without the need to spend any money. And not only where they can exist, but where they can partake in and consume the things that we're making. They don't have to spend money to eat the food, or to go to the event or whatever it is we're doing.
JI: Yes, it's making sure that we're servicing the community and that we're a space that's for the community, and we're not a space that is benefiting from the community, if that makes sense. It's a difference. You know, we obviously will benefit from it, but we're not like...
MH: Exploiting the community?
JI: Yeah, there's a difference between those two things, like you can present yourself as a queer or a Yiddish kind of place in an effort to get money...
MH: Yeah that's the thing; we're really, really sceptical of a lot of places that are branding themselves... well, we don't want to start from a place of scepticism with other places, we were trying really hard to have like a sort of like non-capitalist, non-scarcity mindset about all kinds of other things. But we're very sceptical about places that call themselves queer, but then don't seem to do anything for queers. You have to do more than just brand yourself as like, pink-washy or whatever, you know? We're seeing that the neoliberal response to identity politics is like, oh, 'Barclays is at Pride', and they're not queer friendly! They invest in the arms trade, that's obviously not good for queers! It's just very simple, but it works on some people...
JI: And like, I mean, queers can tell.
JI: We can tell the difference between something branding itself as queer for the gimmick, yeah...
The Skinny: I think what's what feels to me like a very central part of what you're doing, and that seems to be echoed across a lot of people's responses to COVID is this kind of recentering of community as a really important element of basically most projects that are coming out right now. I think people have actually realised the essential kind of fib at the heart of capitalists' vision of everything, which is that actually you do rely on other people a lot more than you had previously been told you did...
MH: Mutual aid is absolutely central to our ethos, so is direct action. I mean, we're anarchists so that's what that means to us. It means a non-hierarchical organisational structure – not just for our internal business, which we have – but also for society at large, and having solidarity with people. So our project focuses on a couple of different identities that are really underserved but we have total solidarity with lots of other groups that we don't ourselves represent, but their struggles are our struggles. And we see that we're obviously connected in a way that neoliberal systems don't want us to understand. We're planning on hosting or providing a space and a platform for lots of different groups once we actually have the physical space. Things like migrants' rights groups, housing rights stuff...
JI: Different languages.
MH: Yeah, a lot of different minoritized languages, queer groups, Jewish groups. Some groups that we will lead and some that other people will lead.
JI: I think in terms of like community in the COVID context, and I think this is something other people have said before, it has emphasised the need for accessible online community stuff. We were kind of fortunate that we had already kind of planned on, before the Coronavirus stuff happened, having our events and different groups be available online. We wanted to have something that was accessible to different communities we're serving that wasn't here, right? But yeah, it has emphasised a lot the need for those kind of community spaces.
MH: We will still stream everything that we can, and where we can will get live captioners and BSL interpreters.
JI: We've been running weekly havdalah which is a Jewish ritual, and that's been quite a nice Jewish community space. It's been like an hour of discussing between Jews, whatever the topic is of that week. We did, and are considering doing it again, running a queer community online weekly discussion group.
MH: Last thing about COVID is just some stats. We did three deliveries, and we made food for over 120 different households. And... that's right, isn't it?
JI: Sounds about right to me... might be about 140?
MH: Over 120 let's say! [laughter] I don't want to lie... if you think it might be 140, that is *also* over 120. The community response has just been brilliant; people are really pleased to have, I don't know, nice food that is affordable, and that people are really keen to genuinely pay what they can for it. So we've had plenty of people like if the food is nine pounds, they'll give us a tenner because they can afford it. And then that helps us subsidise everybody else.
JI: And then there's people who've paid under...
MH: Yeah, of course.
JI: Which lets us know the service is being used.