“Dialogue is the yeast that lightens the bread; & should be paid for at double rate — whereas by the word-system it counts the same as the dough.”

Mark Twain

“Beware of virtue.  Lao Tza, the Chinese philosopher said, “The highest virtue is not virtue, and therefore really is virtue.”  Translated in more of a paraphrastic way, “The highest virtue is not conscious of itself as virtue, and therefore really is virtue.  Lower virtue is so self-conscious that it’s not virtue.”  In other words, when you breathe, you don’t congratulate yourself on being virtuous, but breathing is a great virtue.  It’s living.  When you come out with beautiful eyes – blue or brown or green as the case may be, you don’t congratulate yourself for having grown one of the most fabulous jewels on earth.  It’s just eyes.  And you don’t account it to virtue.  To see, to entertain the miracles of color and form.  But that’s real virtue.  Virtue in the sense in the old sense of the word – a strength as when we talk about the healing virtue of a plant.  That’s real virtue.  But the other virtues are stuck on – they’re ersatz – they’re imitation virtues and they usually create trouble because more diabolical things are done in the name of righteousness and be assured that everybody of whatever nationality or political frame of mind or religion always goes to war with a sense of complete rightness.”  

Alan Watts

For nearly nine years, I haven’t been able to sleep through the night, which has greatly affected me financially, emotionally, and physically.  Being inquisitive and one who enjoys research and investigation, I’ve always felt highly motivated to understand the root cause.  And yet the more I searched, the more futile my effort felt.  I did, however, develop a strong interest in health, wellness, and nutrition, which led me to compile an extensive list of every venue I could find categorized by neighborhood and suburb throughout the Chicago area that has a focus on the best sourcing standards as well as over 200 Midwestern farms including many of their practices such as what they feed the animals, which restaurants they supply, how different rating agencies grade them, and even how many feet the animals have to roam in some cases.  Over time, it occurred to me to use this new interest and list as an opportunity to connect people through shared meals.  Since April of 2015, I have hosted nearly 40 of these Community Dining events, which I’ve really enjoyed because of the camaraderie they have created with everyone coming together not to “network” and exchange business cards solely to further their own interests, but to simply share an experience and bring their whole selves in an environment where relationships could naturally develop.  After the first few events, I began to realize the premise of Community Dining could rest upon more than simply nutrient-dense, intentionally sourced food, but also an unparalleled shared experience with real substance having no other purpose beyond the experience itself.

This realization led me to ask myself:  Why can’t the shared meal serve as a foundation to stimulate discussions about other significant issues I care about?  Thinking about my different interests and how I could share what I enjoy doing with others, I began to see my inability to sleep sufficiently as a gateway to develop a canvas through which I could create any shared meal experience, some of which have notably included a fair trade-themed dinner at a culinary bookstore with a kitchen focused on a discussion of ethical sourcing practices, a dinner with the founder of the Women’s Project of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern along with an exoneree sharing her personal story at a food hub including a grocery store, private dining space, and butcher, a yoga-themed dinner at an art gallery with a kitchen, and even a dinner with an alderman at a private home focused on gentrification where over 20 people stood outside and protested, all prepared by private chefs.

I don’t know how Community Dining has affected the lives of guests, but I can say that three different couples have attended with the purpose of one of them giving a birthday gift to a significant other, one person attended as a result of a financial hardship donation, and another couple attended as a result of a wedding gift.  I suspect that the desire to give these kinds of experiential gifts for such a special occasion and purpose shows that we crave experiences that make us feel alive, especially now that we live in a world that has never been more automated and littered with external stimuli, creating endless, mind-numbing distractions.  Community Dining may help people, but unlike so many self-conscious do-gooders who look to change the world, I only care to pursue what I enjoy.  When I was a little kid, for example, I remember how I loved to just read the sports section of the newspaper, watch the Cubs game, or play with my friends, and how I was so absorbed in these simple experiences, especially those with my friends.  Our plans to meet never had any purpose.  They had real purity without the slightest thought given to the future.  We never cared about using our friendship to create future business or social connections, get ahead in life in some way, or change the world.  We had real virtue and lived spontaneously without self-consciousness.  Now I just want to rediscover what this kind of experience feels like, and Community Dining helps me remember.  Maybe it feels authentic because it helps others remember too.