Let's Have a Virtual Dinner Party! Re-imagining the Same Old

Last week, I visited my Mom for the day.  Her seniors’ residence is a couple of hours away by car, so when I go, I stay for as long as I can.  There’s a lot I can do to be helpful in her apartment, so I try to make the trip every couple of weeks. 

I know Mom enjoys my company, and I enjoy hers.  She doesn’t get out of her apartment very often, largely because she’s off the meal plan.  The daily ritual of getting dressed, going downstairs and sitting in the dining room with friends is not one that appeals to my mother.  There are many reasons for this, chief among them that the food being served is neither appetising nor digestible for my Mom’s very sensitive stomach.  

So, my sister delivers groceries or food and I do too, when I can.  Last week I shopped and then made lamb chops, wax beans, sweet potato and apple crisp.  I asked Mom if she would eat it and she replied, “Well, I’ll eat the apple crisp!”  She was only half joking.  I know she might take a bite of sweet potato, but the rest may well go in the garbage.

But it’s not only food that Mom is missing by not dining with friends.  It’s company and conversation.  Preparing food and eating together is powerful social medicine.  No one knows this better than contemporary artists who seek to disrupt our daily habits and help us to see the ordinary as EXTRAordinary.  

Theaster Gates is a Chicago based artist who inspires me to seek out an excuse to celebrate everyday living in offbeat ways.  A former urban planner, Gates re-purposes abandoned buildings in Chicago’s South Side to help others “understand the beauty that’s embedded in [them].”  But he doesn’t stop there.  Gates invites the neighbors over – he hosts ‘feasts’ along with a facilitated conversation about the meaning inherent in found objects, in an obsolete library archive, in old rafters and of course in each other. 

Theaster Gates’ jazzed up derelict building is called “The Dorchester Projects.”  Here he is talking about his idea for transforming something old, familiar, ugly and worthless into something beautiful, interesting, valuable and unique:

Gates’ work is important for caregivers because our surroundings can become embedded with drudgery, guilt, resentment, anger or hopelessness.  Gates gives us the spark to shift our vision of our surroundings by making a new recipe, having a ‘different’ kind of conversation and generally shaking things up at home till we glimpse a bit of sparkle and the potential of hope.

CAREGIVER IDEA:  Lots of people have collections of one sort or another.  Take out a collection belonging to your loved one and look at each object.  Why is it important?  Is each collectible associated with a memory?  Invite a neighbor, friend or relative over to share in partaking of your ‘home museum exhibit’.  

Other artists working with food and perception are Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski who created “Conflict Kitchen” restaurant in Philadelphia.  Conflict Kitchen serves up food from countries that are in conflict with or at war with the United States.  The restaurant website explains the project’s mission this way: 

Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.

The next event at Conflict Kitchen will be a series of cooking lessons by North Korean defectors.  Folks who cannot make it to the restaurant are invited to join the conversation and perhaps cook along at home via skype.  
I got to thinking that perhaps there is a fun application here for sharing food and fun between caregivers, loved ones and neighbours, friends and even strangers.  When my son Nicholas joined us at the cottage dinner table via Skype, I blogged about it here in a post called “A Very Welcome Virtual Dinner Guest.”  But I hadn’t thought of having group food preparation in different locations via skype.  

CAREGIVER IDEA:  An older family matriarch can demonstrate via skype the correct method for mixing a much loved family recipe.  Younger learners can cook in tandem, but in their own kitchens.  This can be might be fun and fascinating for younger family members living far away.  Once the dish is prepared, the computer can stay on and everyone may enjoy the same meal in different cities.  

It’s important to look at life anew when getting through the day is a challenge.  When the burden of care make personal choices and spur of the moment outings impossible, it takes an artist how to live creatively.  What have you done lately to break out of your care routine?  Please share your ideas and your best experiences!