Due to an article in the Sun Times regarding the Wed., Feb. 15 Community Dining event with Alderman Joe Moreno, I felt that I should respond. To clear up any confusion, Community Dining is the host of the dinner, and all of the proceeds will go towards the cost of the meal and the venue. Neither Alderman Moreno nor Community Dining will receive any compensation for this event. As for the rest of the article, Community Dining aims to stimulate substantive dialogue and create authentic social experiences rather than give attention to petty disputes which detract from its purpose, so I won’t react on a personal level. However, I will comment on the idea of inclusion and the complaint I have received from multiple parties that a $50 dinner excludes people who can’t afford this price.
As Community Dining grows, I will have more flexibility with pricing, yet I don’t want to lower the price if it results in a sacrifice of the quality and authenticity of the experiences, some of which have included an art gallery, a culinary bookstore, and a home interiors showroom – each with a full kitchen where a private chef prepared a meal consistent with the event theme along with generous donations from local food vendors, menus sourced from local and sustainable farms, and exceptional and knowledgeable speakers about issues such as ethical sourcing practices, the value of free trade, farming practices, food waste, and our criminal justice system. While the price has served as a barrier for some people, the energy and intention behind Community Dining have served to break down barriers by creating an atmosphere where all kinds of people regardless of their background and beliefs can interact freely without the kind of pretense that we so often experience when we feel a sense of obligation to be somewhere we really don’t want to be, or just attend an event because we have nothing better to do instead of feeling compelled. Sometimes it’s just fun to see who else will be there and enjoy the people and experience for it’s own sake with no expectation of future personal or societal gain.
Now contrast this type of experience to a free or low cost event, especially a business networking or community activism focused event purporting to foster inclusion and community. Having attended many of these events myself, I can say that the business events tend to blend together and consist of people lacking a clear purpose for attending, and the community activism events consist of people highly energized on behalf of a particular cause or set of narrowly focused beliefs looking to create some kind of a change rather than engage with different types of people having contrasting viewpoints and simply enjoy the experience. For example, when asked how many business owners were in the audience at one of these $5 per person “community-oriented” events, I was only one of two people who raised their hands. The moderator then remarked that “we don’t get many business owners at these events.” So in spite of a low ticket price designed to include people, the environment did not welcome entrepreneurs who represent a valuable part of any community and could have otherwise made a significant contribution to the discussion.
I don’t know how to create the perfect event or community, but I do know that a shared meal devoid of nutrient-dense food that engages us in the means by which we fuel ourselves and and a shared experience devoid of an intention to create long-lasting connections ultimately have no value to me. I sincerely appreciate all of you who have decided to share these experiences with me and remain on my e-mail list. Your support means a great deal to me.