Kei Kurimoto—BMC’s new Innkeeper who will also be cooking some meals—comes to BMC after spending the summer in the Hudson Valley working with the Water Protectors movement. Water Protectors grew out of the Standing Rock action in North Dakota, where Lakota and Dakota native people joined by thousands of other stood up against the ecological threat of an oil pipeline running across their lands.
Kei journeyed to the protests with friends from Philadelphia, and wound up staying over the winter to work in the kitchen. “It was the most amazing experience of my life,” she says. “We were feeding 500 people on an open fire with donated food.”
“ Every day trucks were showing up with food sent from farmers across the country.”
Standing Rock residents called the outdoor kitchen the heart of the camp, Kei says, in keeping with their community traditions. “We fed the people who were doing prayer circles and negotiating with law enforcement, so they could keep going.”
“In a way that’s what we do at BMC—feed the warriors so they can keep doing the work that needs to be done,” she adds, noting her gratitude for working at a place where her activism is seen as an asset to the organization. “I feel so honored as a member of the BMC team.”
Before Standing Rock, Kei founded the Down Dog Healing Café in South Philadelphia, which drew on the traditions of South Asian ayurvedic healing and cuisine. “We were the weird, hippie café at a time when the area did not even have a yoga studio.”
Besides offering options of gluten-free vegan food in the neighborhood that gave birth to the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, the cooks would whip up special tonics, juices and other offerings to address health issues that customers raised. Ayurvedic healing, Kei explains, is about maintaining and restoring balance through diet, herbal medicine and lifestyle.
She grew interested in ayurvedic medicine while experiencing low-energy as a varsity soccer player at Seton Hill University in New Jersey, eventually studying the subject deeper at the American University of Complementary Medicine in Los Angeles.
Growing up in a family that owned several Japanese restaurants around Philadelphia, she has long experience in both cooking and hosting. And she feels the Standing Rock experience honed her resourcefulness. “Standing Rock is a food desert and we were living on donations, so I was grateful for any food. We would not serve something just because it wasn’t organic.”