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Peru's women unite in kitchen – and beyond

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A narrow set of stairs outside a non-descript building leads to Diez de Febrero, a bright, tidy kitchen of yellow walls, a cement floor, and a giant, tiled sink. Work here starts early – at 7:30 a.m. Those on duty put to boil two massive pots of rice, holding 22 pounds each, and then head to the nearby market. The 40-some members of this kitchen take turns cooking, and in return receive their daily meals for about 60 cents (1.70 soles) each.

By 1 p.m., members have picked up their lunches, served in big metal pots they drop off at the kitchen each morning, and taken them home to their families. Today's menu: chicken soup, rice, and beans with chicken.

This is one of some 125 such kitchens in this neighborhood alone, a former squatter community that has developed into one of the largest districts in Lima, with over 500,000 residents.

As food inflation hits Peru, as it has the world over, the community kitchen is providing support to the neediest families, offering meals to the community at large. They charge more for nonmembers, 90 cents a meal, but it is still cheaper than cooking at home. They now cook ten times as much as they used to before prices spiked, the women say. They also cook free meals for the sick, elderly, and those in extreme poverty.

"They are playing an important role as the prices go up," says Maria Bozeta, president of the Federation of Women Organized in Committees of Self-Sustaining Kitchens (FEMOCCPAALM), which oversees 1,300 kitchens in metropolitan Lima. "They are seeking solutions that affect the poorest; they are being proactive."

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