Picture by Antonia Oettingen
The prospect of a public outdoor pool after a hot summer’s day would probably get a DNA scientist pretty excited. Well, pots and pans are just as good as that old DNA pool. Inside you will find pretty much everything homo sapiens have to offer: Billions of different traditions, our quaintest endeavours and our most shameful moments. On that note, future generations might think that a global obesity epidemic of under 5 year olds was rather unnecessary, but that’s beside the point. Food is an excellent way to see what’s going on in any given community, especially when it is a tight-knit religious following.

There are tight-knit religious followings and then there is Hare Krishna. A movement, which operates at the periphery of religious legitimacy and has had a truckload of bad press. The Hare Krishna temple on Brooklyn’s Schermerhorn Street is used as a place of worship, meditation and houses two communal housing complexes. Without further ado, here is a taste of a day in this commune.

Mohan Krishna Mohans, 56, preparing milk sweets at the commune’s kitchen. Picture by Antonia Oettingen
This is the cooked down skin of the milk, which is then rolled into small dough balls and boiled in sugared water. The end result will be a syrupy milk spounge. Picture by Antonia Oettingen

“We are trying to prepare 108 different food items as an offering for Krishna and his consort, his girlfriend, as tomorrow is her birthday.”

A devotee lying on the floor during a moment of worship. Picture by Antonia Oettingen
Vrndavana Lila, 25, who was born into Hare Krishna, also sings in a psychedelic rock band. Picture by Antonia Oettingen
The Hare Krishna priest Nara Hari Das, 50, used to travel across Europe as a musician. Here he is talking about consciousness. Picture by Antonia Oettingen

Fighting the Sunday Blues at a church cafeteria

If you want to know what’s going on at the United House of Prayer, you better visit “Bailey’s Café” on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Through offering a Sunday soul food feast at the cafeteria located above the church, Pastor Apostel Sewell likes to see his community come together after service. The menu changes every Sunday — meatloaf, pigs feet, fried chicken or chitlins (pigs’ intestines) — but there is always a scuffle for the last piece of sweet potato pie.


It is safe to say that soul food is as vital to this community as the church service itself. And this isn’t just happening on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. There are 150 House of Prayer churches across the country, the majority of which come with soul food cafeterias.

There is no talking about soul food without acknowledging where it comes from and how it was cultivated. Born during the times of slavery when Pastor Apostel Sewell’s grandparents had to make ends meet, the scraps from the master table turned into a delicacy. These delicacies have become staples of the American diet, though for many, this country’s darkest past still holds court, as Pastor Apostel explains: “We still have this pain in our heart because we have been treated like this.” Once stopped and frisked by the police himself, the pastor had to teach his sons how to carry themselves if they get stopped.

The pastor feels that race will continue to play a role in America, one that systematically disadvantages black people: “Over 100 years we are still going through this racial stuff that we are going through today. This race. It is not going to change, it is not going to get no better. Race is not going to stop in America towards us. Even with the college degrees we have there is always going to be a limitation to how far we can go in life.”