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From Veggie Café to Venue Extraordinaire

From Veggie Café to Venue ExtraordinaireTufts' student-run Oxfam Café provides the community with both socially conscious cuisine and cool concerts.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.29.08] It seems hard to believe that Tufts' own socially conscious vegetarian café and increasingly hip concert venue once existed only as a food cart, serving snacks to students in front of Eaton Hall.

Although Oxfam Café has expanded both on the café front, with approximately 40 volunteers involved in its day-to-day operations, as well as the concert front, hosting a wide range of up-and-coming music acts from Tufts and beyond, it has served the same basic principles since its formation in the 1970s.

The Oxfam Café's main purpose is to raise money for Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization that works for social justice and the alleviation of poverty and hunger. Senior Mara Gittleman (A'09), the advertising manager for Oxfam Café, says that it was the social consciousness aspect that drew her in.

"I really liked the atmosphere," Gittleman says. "I liked that they were all vegetarian and vegan, globally minded, but especially that they were focused on buying local organic food."

One of the music managers at Oxfam, senior Kelly Duroncelet (A'09), says that the customer clientele often reflects the same type of people who work at the café.

"During the day [at Oxfam] we get a lot of socially aware students-they think the idea of Oxfam is really cool, because of the donation aspect," says Duroncelet. "We get a lot of people who live uphill who want coffee, or specifically fair-trade coffee."

Few people know, however, that since the Café is independently operated, the process of getting food supplies in stock is entirely a student volunteer initiative. To make that process more efficient, Gittleman says Oxfam is looking to set up a food delivery service with a local food co-op.

Currently, Oxfam aims to serve organic and locally grown food but can't offer an entirely organic menu due to issues of high costs and basic availability. However, the café does serve an entirely vegetarian menu, with some vegan options. Gittleman says the café's vegetarian focus may serve as a big draw for many of the volunteers.

The volunteers "tend to be vegetarians, who are either into it for social or environmental reasons," says Gittleman, who adds that volunteers are "usually pretty environmentally conscious, artsy, and they tend to like cafés."

Senior and volunteer manager Ashley Kantor (A'09) says the café's music also attracts a certain type.

"I'd say the volunteers tend to be more of the indie crowd at Tufts," she says, referring to fans of underground and up-and-coming rock and hip-hop acts. "A lot of people find out about the café because of the shows we put on here, which tend to have alternative music."

 

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When it becomes a performance venue, the Oxfam Café transforms into the Midnight Café, which has gained recognition in the broader local music scene with its "Fridays at the Café" events.

 

"It's really the performances that gives us the most publicity, and gets people into the café," says Gittleman. "Over the last couple of years, the Midnight Café has really gotten on the map in Boston-we've gotten in the [local alternative newsweekly The Boston] Phoenix, that sort of thing."

"I think it's because a lot of people don't know about the space, and when they see it, they think it's pretty cool," Duroncelet agrees. "Often, they're really surprised. They're really into the idea of Oxfam International, and the fact that we do donate our profits to Oxfam.So when we have shows, it brings people who buy food, so they're donating in some way."

Besides hosting great shows, a key mission of the Midnight Café is to provide non-alcoholic social events for students on campus. Free coffee and tea are often served during shows.

Although concert-goers tend to take great pride in the social consciousness aspect of the Café, many students choose to come purely out of interest in the musical acts performing. To book acts, the Midnight Café staff works with Tufts groups like AppleJam, a student-run performance board, as well as booking groups in the Boston music scene. Café volunteers can rattle off a number of memorable shows that the venue has hosted.

"The [March 2007] Ratatat show was pretty memorable, just because it was huge," says Midnight Café manager Carmel Curtis.

"A couple of weeks ago, this guy Jack Rose came to play, he was unbelievable," adds Gittleman.

Duroncelet, who cites Philadelphia's Man Man as her favorite Oxfam concert, says that part of what makes the concerts at Oxfam so appealing are the diversity of music styles exhibited, ranging from the noise rock of Pennsylvania's An Albatross to the more acoustic stylings of Washington State's Mount Eerie.

While the Oxfam's increased prominence as a Boston-area concert venue has drawn an increasing number of non-Tufts students to the shows, the Café does not forget its roots.

"We host Tufts bands pretty much anywhere, anytime they want to have a show," says Duroncelet. "It's a great place for people to get their start."

Profile by Charlotte Steinway (A'10).

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