Food is, and always has been, something that brings people together. It’s an opportunity to share ideas, to meet new people, to learn new things, and to have some fun. At buildingcommunityWORKSHOP we have food every time we have a community event. In our experience, potlucks are always a great way to engage folks in a project. Hiring a local restaurant to cater a film screening or project launch gives exposure to neighborhood businesses and supports the local economy. There are so many different initiatives that have food as integral part of community building, below are just a few examples of people and projects that inspire us to think creatively about the importance of a meal.
In the fall of 2014, artist Seitu Jones hosted a meal for 2,000 people, held at table .5 miles long. The project, called Create: The Community Meal, was produced by Public Art Saint Paul. Working with local farmers to supply produce for event, Jones organized the event to bring together neighbors from Saint Paul, Minnesota, to discuss food security, food justice, and healthy eating, all over a communal meal. In addition the, the project also included collaboration with other artists to create spoken word, poetry, dance, and placemats.
The Family Dinner Project is a nonprofit organization that advocates for regularly occurring family meals, citing research that shows consistent family meals are linked to, among other things, higher grade point average, lower risk of teen pregnancy, and lower risk of obesity. One way the project encourages maintaining the practice of family meals is with a Community Dinner Series. Through hosting these communal meals, schools, religious institutions, and community organizations can support the efforts of families to spend time together and practice healthy eating habits, while strengthening neighborhood connections. The organization has created a handy guide for those interested in starting their own Community Dinner Series.
Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that serves food from countries with which the United Stated is in conflict with. The menu changes periodically, focusing on one nation at a time. As of the moment this text was written, the menu features Iranian food with accompanying events including the Iranian Film and Video Festival in collaboration with the Carnegie Museum of Art; a virtual cooking lesson broadcast live from Tehran, Iran; and geopolitical Trivia Night.