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Inviting Dialogue

This is article is Part III of a three-part series sharing some of the background of the Land Food and Race Bearing Witness Retreat in September of 2017. Please consider applying by July 17 to join us. Part I. Part II

After I realized my reluctance to talk about race to a predominantly white group, I attended a bearing witness training at the Greyston Foundation, which was established by Zen Peacemakers founder Bernie Glassman.  When Paco, a senior teach of color to whom I expressed that reluctance, raised the topic of race, he said to the group “Ariel and I had a really good conversation about this yesterday.  He's got something to say about it.” I was afraid. I thought I might never feel ready and decided to initiate dialogue anyway. I shared some of my experiences and questions. These experiences, along with listening to racial justice activists, resulted in the Land Food and Race Bearing Witness Retreat Paco and I, along with leaders of Soul Fire Farm, will lead in September.

I have experienced that addressing my own privilege and racism as a white person is a major opportunity to practice bearing witness. The Land, Food and Race Bearing Witness Retreat will provide an opportunity to bear witness to the food system and also racism that pervades it. It will be a chance to bear witness to prejudice in ourselves and in our communities. If you are considering joining us on this retreat, please visit www.unitytables.org to learn more and apply today.

“The Peacemakers we remember and honor most are those who try to heal our society as a whole, not just pieces of it... Once they bear witness to the functioning of an entire society, the healing that arises is on the scale of an entire society.  During this process they challenge every human being and institution, as well as our very way of life...The healing that arises threatens the very foundation of these societies.  We will be called troublemakers, we’ll be called Communists.  And sometimes we’ll be arrested, beaten, or killed.” Bernie Glassman in Bearing Witness

 

Learning About Race

This is Part II of a three-part series sharing some of the background of the Land Food and Race Bearing Witness Retreat in September of 2017. Please consider applying by July 17 to join us. Part I. Part III

Seeing an opportunity to grow, I participated in a 3-day Undoing Racism training with the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond in May of 2014.  The topics presented resonated deeply to me with the three Peacemaker tenets of Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and doing the Actions that come from them.  According to the way I integrate the three tenets with what I learned at the training, prejudices, both racist and otherwise, are widespread patterns of Knowing that privilege certain identities and perspectives at the expense of others. I refer to Knowing as the opposite of the first Peacemaker tenet of Not-Knowing. Examining privilege therefore provides a lens to question assumptions and reach Not-Knowing. This works, in my opinion, as long as the anti-privilege attitude doesn't become a new rigid assumption. Just like Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness facilitate behavior that heals social divides, Knowing can conversely prevent Bearing Witness and result in behavior that maintains separation and marginalization, misses opportunities for mutual benefit or, worse, commits or sustains abuse and oppression.  

My take on the history I learned at the Undoing Racism training and by reading the New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, is that when European indentured servants and African slaves encountered each other in the American colonies, they naturally bore witness to each other, and loving actions ensued... in some cases quite literally. They formed romantic connections and had babies.  They started collaborating to oppose the colonial slaveholders.  Realizing that the subjugated Africans and Europeans would more effectively challenge the dominant powers working together than working apart, the slave-owners created laws that defined the Africans as “black” and the Europeans as “white.” They created punishments for interbreeding between blacks and white and also created different punishments for a variety of crimes for blacks and for whites. In doing so, they created and imposed a concept of race that didn’t previously exist.  Thus, while the slaves and indentured servants previously saw common cause with each other, the prejudice of a racialized worldview encouraged them to see “other.”  The colonizers created a socially reinforced pattern of Knowing that continues today.  

At a Zen Peacemaker Order Council and Bearing Witness training in June 2015, our council trainer Jared Seide introduced four quadrants of the Johari Window:

Jared invited us to write on a piece of paper something in the hidden area that we’d like to share anonymously.  That is to say, something of which we are aware but hide, about which we are afraid to “come out of the closet.” We mixed them up and read them aloud.  I shared I was afraid to reveal my feelings connected to racial privilege. I feared offending others.

I talked about my blind spot later that day with Paco Lugoviña, a senior teacher in the Zen Peacemakers of Puerto Rican descent, who was also at the training.  He invited me to a meeting with the folks from the Interdependence Project, whose board he recently joined.  We met with a young woman of color involved with IDP. I shared how my earlier experience presenting at IDP shifted my perspective and she told me about anti-racist initiatives in a variety of Buddhist communities, including her own.

After the meeting, I told Paco that I wanted to promote an exploration of racism in the Zen Peacemakers, but I wanted to wait for the right time.  I was recently elected to the new ZPO international governance circle and I didn't want to threaten my status by bringing up these complicated and potentially controversial issues.  

Relative and Absolute

I’ll digress for a moment to illustrate why I see this as complicated.  I see social identity this as a case of the Zen concept of the identity and balance of the relative and the absolute.  In the introduction to Infinite Circle in 2001, Bernie Glassman asks “Can this move...towards recognizing that we’re all One, allow for the equal importance of diverse cultures, economies, traditions, and needs?  Can we honor each component as One Body rather than honoring the One Body at the expense of its components? This has always been humanity’s great challenge, and it’s equally the great challenge facing peacemakers today.”

On the side of the absolute, we are all One and race doesn’t exist. The history I learned through training and reading claimed that despite how solid it can sometimes seem, race as I know it as an American is a mere social construct without a solid biological basis.  Similarly, I was taught in my Buddhist training that clinging to a fixed sense of identity is the cause of suffering.  Can identity politics, therefore, reinforce such clinging?

Listening to the voices of American people of color (through trainings like Undoing Racism, books like the New Jim Crow, survey results, social science research and conversations with individuals) sheds light on the relative. On the side of the relative, advocates of racial justice share the perspective that the social construct of race results in harm and that bringing those constructs to conscious awareness can help reduce their grip on us.  People of color who left predominantly white progressive communities have told me that a sense of colorblindness and reluctance to discuss race contributed to an environment in which they ultimately did not feel welcome.

I learned about the connection between mindfulness and race in my Mindfulness Facilitator Training with the Engaged Mindfulness Institute.  According to John A. Powell Ph.d, the Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkley, “Research has uncovered overwhelming evidence that conscious egalitarian goals are often undermined by deeply rooted implicit biases… the goal is not to eliminate bias, but rather the negative effects of bias. We need to create and foster new experiences that can override our biased beliefs in order to build an unconscious that functions from and seeks to reinforce mores of equality and fairness.”

Social psychologists have observed that even when people profess being more or less colorblind, anxiety resulting from encountering racial Others results in people arranging seats farther apart than they otherwise might, over-anticipating disagreement and conflict and avoiding potentially charged topics that actually lead to deeper understanding.  Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce impulsive reactions, including prejudice based on age and race.  In my experience, practices in the Zen Peacemakers tradition also reduce prejudice. To be continued.

Not Ready to Talk about Race

This is Part I of a three-part series sharing some of the background of the Land Food and Race Bearing Witness Retreat in September of 2017. Please consider applying by July 17 to join us. Part II. Part III

“If we truly bear witness to the wholeness of life, then we will bear witness not just to our own lives but to the complex functioning of society as a whole...It wasn’t enough for me to visit everyone and try to see things from their points of view -- or to try to help them see things from my point of view.  We also had to bear witness to a system of racism, poverty, and disempowerment.  We were all part of it, we had formed it together, and it, in turn, was now forming our views and reactions” -Bernie Glassman in Bearing Witness

One of the most meaningful parts to me of being a Zen Peacemakers Minister is going beyond the illusion of separation between self and other. Through numerous bearing witness retreats on the streets and at Auschwitz, I practiced experiencing interconnection. My experience with the many sanghas in the international Zen Peacemakers family has been enriched by diverse cultures, nationalities and languages.  Bearing witness to these differences is a central theme of our retreats.  

I find myself in many communities in the United States that make explicit pronouncements of valuing racial inclusion and diversity while being composed primarily of people of European descent.  In many these communities, I don’t see as many brown-skinned as I see outside of them.  That is to say, they aren’t representative in this regard of the cities and nation in which they are located.  Why is this the case?    

During the early years of my academic study and Zen training, I didn’t explicitly study social identities like race and class. Though they were popular with many of my peers, I didn’t take courses in college that focused on topics like anti-racism and feminism.  I considered myself a liberal. I already believe in that stuff, I thought. No need for me to work on that. Instead, I studied government, history and economics. The vast majority of the voices I studied were those of dead white men.  

In January of 2014, I gave a presentation at the Interdependence Project in New York City.  I gave my usual shtick about the pay-what-you-can community cafe I helped found as part of my training in becoming a Zen Peacemaker Minister. I explained how we use the Way of Council circle and the pay-what-you-can structure to foster connection for people from different class and racial backgrounds.  

When one of the participants asked how we address race, I admitted that I hadn’t focused on it explicitly, but that we try our best to create conditions where everyone will be able to listen deeply to each other. Audience members asked follow-up questions:

“Is passing around the talking stick in council sufficient to overcome unequal power dynamics based on race?”

“Do you think a colorblind approach will help identify and dismantle racism?”

This was about half a year after the Black Lives Matter movement grew in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin.  A renewed conversation on race was emerging in the mainstream and I didn’t know how to participate. There I was, representing a lineage I was proud to consider one of the primary promoters of Socially Engaged Buddhism, and was ignorant about a pressing social issue. To be continued.     

"Functional Foods" Top Google Trend

Google did an analysis of food-related web searches in 2016 and it revealed some interesting trends: there is a growing consumer interest in the health-enhancing role of specific foods, or what experts call "functional foods." People are searching more and more for foods to add to their food for extra health benefits rather than what to eliminate. Turmeric is the rising star with over 300% growth over the last five years.

Google searched for "turmeric" from 2004-2016

Google searched for "turmeric" from 2004-2016

In response, some brands are trying to "healthify" foods by adding functional ingredients. A survey of the supermarket shelf shows ingredients like chia, flax and probiotics being added to crackers, chocolate, and gummies.

Read more about these finding HERE.

Lessons from my grandfather

By Ari Pliskin

The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.
— Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

Early on the morning of April 4, 2016, the spirit of my grandfather Dr. Moises Moschkovich, left his body while I lay at his side at hospice. We called him Zeide (Spanish pronunciation of yiddish). Since he was born in Romania in 1921, he journeyed to Argentina, and then the United States – and now beyond. During his final days, my family and I accompanied him and increased his comfort. He cracked jokes and expressed love until his last words.

Being at his side for the last hours was one of the most beautiful, horrible, experiences I’ve ever had. I’m filled with love, inspiration, awe, wonder and grief.  Through the experience I felt very connected to my mother, sister, aunt and our partners. We laughed, we cried. We sat in silence. We shared.

We read the Spinoza quote above at my grandfather’s memorial service.  A decidedly non-religious man, reading the philosophy of Spinoza during his later years gave him meaning.  He never stopped studying, reading and learning so the quote is appropriate.  His lifelong quest helped him find freedom in a number of ways.   

1. Ambition

My grandfather broke free from poverty and political instability.  His story is an intercontinental journey of evading violence and improving life for his family.  His family escaped Russia in 1917.  He was born during a brief stop in Romania and came to Argentina when he was an infant.  His father was a barber.  His father insisted he stay in school despite family economic pressure for each child to bring in money.  His completion of medical school was interrupted only by protest (see Justice below).  After practicing medicine in Argentina for several years, he was frustrated that he could still not afford to buy a house.  He brought his family to Cleveland, OH.  He continued to work through his adult life and didn’t fully retire until he was 90 years old.

Growing up, there was never any doubt in my family that I’d attend university.  My Zeide supported me morally and financially in first receiving my undergraduate degree at Wesleyan and then in attending the Zen Peacemakers seminary.  This last piece is especially important because he was supporting something that conflicted with his modernist, rationalist worldview.  I differentiated between the dogma of mainstream religion and the open-minded pragmatism of progressive spirituality, which helped him open up to appreciating the universal values in the path I was forging.  While he struggled to understand it at times, he also made an effort to read about the life of the Buddha and appreciate the elements of Buddhist philosophy and practice that could resonate with his own worldview.  

2. Culture

My grandparents found freedom from boredom and convention through culture. While my parents and I watched a copious amount of TV during my childhood, my grandparents discouraged us from watching too much.   Instead, there was often classical music or tango playing in the background at their house.  They brought me repeatedly to the Cleveland Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History.  At their house, Zeide showed me books about evolution with images of homo sapiens’ predecessors and there was also a big Picasso book. 

Photo by Mindy Tucker at my sister's wedding 2 years ago. 

Photo by Mindy Tucker at my sister's wedding 2 years ago. 

3. Wellness

He found freedom from poor health, which helped him live a long time in relative good health.  “I started exercising on a regular basis at age 60,” my grandfather told the Cleveland Jewish News "I left the addiction of smoking for a new addiction: that of exercise,” he said. “I miss (exercise) if I don’t do it.”  I remember going together to the health club and doing the routine together: exercise, hot tub, steam room, a little snack of apple or crackers and laying in our towels.  This was our man time.  

Age 91

Age 91

4. Caring

He found freedom from isolation by caring for others.  I remember Zeide drying me after a shower at his house.  I remember a feeling of warmth and a sense that he was caring for all of me in a very intimate and safe way.   The way he cared for my grandmother while she was in the nursing home with Alzheimer’s in her later years touched me deeply.

When the music therapist at the hospital before hospice asked what attracted him to medicine, he explained that he loved caring for people.  As I sat next to both of them, I was touched to hear him explain to her that his grandson (myself) is also called to a vocation of caring as well. 

5. Justice

He also worked for political freedom, from oppression and injustice.  I was told that my grandfather never turned away a client who came to his house unable to afford his services.  As a student, he protested the anti-democratic rise of Perón.  He recalls being incarcerated with Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was an younger student at the same medical school.

Participating in student protests

Participating in student protests

Participating in the student political paper.  

Participating in the student political paper.  

Conclusion

My biggest current project is supporting the pay-what-you-can community cafe movement through Unity Tables.  I can see the influences of my grandfather in this work.  A sense of ambition has propelled me to steadily build this work, a bit at a time, over several years.  With live music and other cultural events, community cafes not only feed our bellies, but also our need for meaning and creativity.  My grandparent’s lifelong insistence on eating well and exercising regularly have stuck with me and played a foundational role in my daily habits.  Eating well is a basic goal for Unity Tables’ efforts to increase access to locally grown organic food.  Community cafes differ from soup kitchens in that they increase access to food in a spirit of caring and dignity.  Finally, I explore how community cafes actualize food justice, addressing concerns of environmental sustainability and labor, in addition to public health.

Zeide, you are my foundation. You taught me wellness, culture, caring, ambition and justice. I hope I can make you proud.

Fundraising Help for Your Community Cafe

Fundraising Webinar
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2-4pm EST
Sign up @ unitytables.org

Next week, Unity Tables launches a webinar aimed to help community cafes raise money.  Whether for start-up capital or monthly operating revenue to supplement pay-what-you-can contributions, most cafes need to fundraise.  If you are a cafe leader, please consider joining us.  If you want to support the ability of cafes to build their capacity, consider donating today.

This webinar for community cafe leaders will help you… 

  • Discover resources to catalyze your organization's income
  • Connect with cafe leaders from around the nation
  • Develop a fundraising plan for your cafe
  • Engage your Board of Directors
  • Overcome emotional obstacles to asking for money
  • Embrace resource generation as a path for personal and collective growth
  • Raise enough money for your cafe to thrive

See what last year's Incubator cohort had to say about Unity Tables:

"Ari has supported me in the process of founding the Port Cafe in many ways. He has been supportive at every step of the way in both mundane details and high-level philosophical approaches to our work." Read more.
- Abe Lateiner, Port Cafe, Cambridge, MA

Help spread the word!  Share this announcement on Facebook.

February Newsletter

 

Unity Tables February Newsletter

Dear friend, 

I am so excited to share our first newsletter with you!  We just got back from a productive business trip and are looking forward to an exciting next phase of our work.  In January, we traveled to Denver, Colorado to help lead the annual One World Everybody Eats summit, at which we announced the release of a new manual for community cafes, created with Unity Tables' support.  Unity Tables is the official training partner of One World Everybody Eats, a growing network of over 60 cafes around the world. While in Colorado, we also facilitated a workshop at Naropa University, helping students transform their campus cafe. Read on to learn about these accomplishments as well as next month's launch of a new cycle of trainings to help community cafe leaders design business plans and make their cafes thrive.  Thanks for being a part of this movement.  Please consider following us on Facebook, spreading the word, joining a training, or donating today!

    
Sincerely, 

Ari Pliskin 

Executive Director


Unity Tables Cafe Incubator graduates develop leadership at annual gathering.

Join the
Community Cafe Incubator!


The best value for making your project thrive!

The Unity Tables Incubator is a year-long training program geared to provide you with the best support for your community cafe. Participate in monthly webinars, get customized feedback on your business plan, receive 1-on-1 coaching, and join our Community of Practice, with peer coaching, topical conference calls, and a sense of connection to the community cafe movement! Learn more HERE.


Trends

Adoption by community cafes of "Healthy Seasonal foods" (one of the One World Everybody Eats Core Values) reflects broader shifts in how we eat.

Unity Tables provides guidance to help cafes take advantage of these consumption shifts, while creating viable businesses. 

The Washington Post highlights a slew of evidence that illustrate these changes.

 
Despite expensive marketing, soda sales drop (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)


More than half of U.S. farmers market managers  reported an increase in customers and sales. (Jay Paul/For The Washington Post)

QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) Magazine explains that fast food chains struggle to catch up to new consumer demand for fresh ingredients.
 

 

Unity Tables News

Naropa University Envisions Community Cafe
naropa student
After completing a workshop with Unity Tables, Naropa University may be the first higher education institution to join a global movement that is transforming how people eat around the world. READ MORE

Unity Tables @
Pay-What-You-Can
Summit


Over MLK Jr. Weekend, Unity Tables attended the One World Summit in Denver, CO. It was an inspiring event that brought together leaders from around the nation who are planning or running pay-what-you-can cafes. READ MORE
 

Upcoming

Interactive Webinars 
2pm-4pm EST
1st Wed. of every month


March: Fundraising
April: Strategic Plan
May: Community Engagement
June: Structure
July: Volunteers
August: Budget
September: Board
October: Pay-What-You-Can Pricing
November: Food
December: Staff
LEARN MORE
 

Community Conference Call
2pm-4pm EST
3rd Wed. of every month
 
FREE

Next Call = March 16th

SIGN UP NOW!
 
Bearing Witness to Food Fall 2016 

Join the discussion at the One World Everybody Eats Facebook page!
 

Naropa University Envisions Community Cafe

Naropa University may be the first higher education institution to join a global movement that is transforming how people eat around the world.  Over the last ten years, over 60 pay-what-you-can community cafes have opened in the One World Everybody Eats network in the United States alone.  This alternative model addresses concerns of food service labor, environment, hunger and community.  While partnerships with universities provide many cafes with a key source of volunteers, no university has created its own cafe.      

On Sunday, January 24, 2016, a group of 13 Naropa community members gathered for a workshop facilitated by community cafe experts from the nonprofit Unity Tables.  Participants included students, staff, representatives from the Office of Facilities and Sustainability and community members.  Many students were from Naropa’s undergraduate and graduate environmental studies programs and one Buddhist divinity student.  The group celebrated ways that Naropa’s campus cafe already embodies the university’s core values of Sustainability, Contemplation and Diversity and envisioned ways that it could do so more fully.  

Unity Tables was invited by Naropa’s Sustainability Council, which recently took interest in the campus cafe after the cafe changed management to the nonprofit Bridge House.  While the group is pleased with the quality of food and service at the recently reopened cafe and they are inspired by Bridge House’s social mission, they hope this new beginning can also provide an opportunity to explore aspirations such as partnering with local farms, meeting various dietary needs, composting, a pay-what-you-can cost structure, and student participation.  

Unity Tables and Naropa University share common roots in the Buddhist tradition.  Unity Tables was created by Ari Pliskin, a Minister ordained by Roshi Bernie Glassman in the Zen Peacemaker Order.  Bernie’s Japanese teacher Taizan Maezumi Roshi was friends with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Naropa University.  After living on the streets for a few days for a retreat in his spiritual community, Ari and his colleagues started promoting community cafes as an alternative to the indignity they discovered in soup kitchens.  He soon learned that the way we eat is deeply connected to a variety of issues.  One of the starkest examples of the relationship between our food system and ecological concerns is the estimate that up to a third of carbon emissions can be attributed to how our food is produced, transported, prepared, consumed and discarded.  

True to the engaged Buddhist tradition of blending inner work with social transformation, the workshop at Naropa started reflectively with guided meditation and a council circle.  Ari and his colleague Alex Gilman shared the three peacemaker tenets of not-knowing, bearing witness and loving actions, as well as the seven core values of the One World Community Cafe model.  Small groups developed visions for pay-what-you-can and volunteer possibilities, community engagement, food sourcing and waste management.  The meeting ended with the group eagerly setting an agenda for its next meeting, with group members brainstorming and committing to concrete next actions.   

The group started to explore what it could look like to partner with Bridge House to create a business plan over the next year to make their dreams a reality.  Some students committed to talk to faculty about opportunities for research and service learning.  The Cafe Committee of the Sustainability Council will meet soon to continue this work.

Unity Tables hopes that more universities will join the Community Cafe movement. Many universities are already engaged in service learning and deeply committed to social justice issues. Opening a Community Cafe on campus gives universities an opportunity to integrate their principles and values with the way they operate on a day-to-day basis. Giving students a chance to learn how to plan and execute a social enterprise project is an invaluable lesson for bringing education into making an impact on the world.


Manifest Idealism Through Pragmatism

by Ari Pliskin

Designing a Green Menu

One of the One World Everybody Eats core functional elements is to provide “local and organic” options, “sustainably grown, raised or caught...where possible.”  By many estimates, the most environmentally sustainable diet would only include locally sourced, organic vegan food.  Giving up beef, for example, would reduce carbon footprint more than giving up cars, according to scientists.  

Based on estimates like these, I recently heard activists seeking to establish a new cafe discuss serving only locally sourced, organic vegan options.  However, there are two problems with this approach, both based on the need for you to bring in more money than you spend.  Remember that a business that does harm and makes a profit will continue to exist even though it shouldn’t, but a mission-driven organization that does good in the world but can’t generate enough revenue to cover its costs won’t continue to exist even though it should.

There are two problems with an overly idealistic menu:

  1. You need enough people to buy your products to stay in business and
  2. You need to control costs: local organic food is often more expensive.

While greener choices are becoming more popular every day, most people’s eating and dining habits are shaped by the familiar industrial food system.  Most eateries that strive for financial and environmental sustainability must use a mix of organic and conventional, plant-based options and meat.  

While pursuing a middle ground approach, I recommend developing concrete measures of sustainability that are regularly reviewed and striving over time to improve performance.  One strategy to accomplish this is to educate diners through your marketing about the impact of their choices on people and on the planet.

Effective Innovation is the Greenest Strategy

Management guru Peter Drucker provides some guidance regarding how to use the tastes, beliefs and buying power of your potential clientele to determine what type of menu is right for you.  In Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker describes that technological advancement (e.g. adding feature after feature to each iteration of the iPhone) is one of the least successful strategies for innovation.  Successful innovation, he argues, results from perceiving changes in society and responding to them.  

According to Drucker, “The greatest danger for the new venture is to ‘know better’ than the customer what the product or service should be, how it should be bought, and what it should be used for.”  He describes various examples in which firms fail to sell new products because the firms are more focused on their own internal technological exploration than on the actual needs and desires of consumers.  Often times, executives in these firms will blame the customers for failing to appreciate their products.  Drucker explains that to build a company that lasts, to truly innovate, the business must be built around the customer.    

Thus, Drucker explains, “innovation is both conceptual and perceptual.  The imperative of innovation is therefore to go out to look, to ask, to listen.  Successful innovators look at figures, and they look at people.”  Instead of making business decisions based on their own knowing, the innovator bears witness to the customers.  Further, they do this in a way that combines statistical analysis of data and being on the ground interacting directly.

One of the sources of successful innovation that Drucker describes is a gap between our values and the way things actually are.  Therefore, as a cafe operator, we can provide more sustainable options as consumers learn more about the impact of their choices.  We can also educate consumers more about their choices.  As the same time we must be careful not to get ahead of our customers.  We have to meet them where they are, provide food they will actually be excited to buy now.

The Next Generation

Evidence suggests that consumers are increasingly willing to spend more money for options that are healthy and that care for people and planet.  The following data reported by the New York Times suggests both the current limits and increasing possibilities of ethics based food choices:  

Consider millennial shopping habits. Even in the realm of fashion, many are indifferent to prestige brands and lavish ad campaigns, preferring to buy online or get “disposable” clothing at H & M or Zara, which boasts that its organically farmed cottons are “completely free of pesticides, chemicals and bleach.”
The do-goodish pitch is aimed squarely at millennials, who collectively favor companies that embrace the values of good citizenship. The Brookings report says millennials overwhelmingly “responded with increased trust (91 percent) and loyalty (89 percent), as well as a stronger likelihood to buy from those companies that supported solutions to specific social issues (89 percent).”
And consider food. The new generation may have had health-consciousness drilled into them at home or in school. But they have raised it to a new level. “For millennials, food isn’t just food. It’s community,” The Washington Post reported last year in an article on the Silver Diner chain, which has developed an up-to-the-minute locavore menu and “started actively catering to those on vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets.”
It was a shrewd calculation. An estimated 12 percent of millennials say they are “faithful vegetarians,” compared with 4 percent of Gen X’ers and 1 percent of baby boomers, according to one study.
Taken together, these habits and tastes look less like narcissism than communalism. And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.

Generation Nice: The Millennials Are Generation Nice, By Sam Tanenhausaug, Aug 2014

Therefore, idealistic menus and models are on the right track.  We just need to decide how much idealism is right for this moment and how to create a world in which more will be appropriate tomorrow.  

6 Lessons for Supporting Community Cafes

by Ari Pliskin

On November 18, Unity Tables hosted a pilot webinar with 21 current and aspiring community cafe leaders from around the world.  After completing the webinar, 100% of respondents said they would recommend Unity Tables to other cafe leaders.  Here are 6 lessons we learned:

1. Business Planning is the Right Focus

Graduates of our first community cafe incubator said they would like to see our sessions deliver a single concrete product.  We decided to focus all of our webinars on creating a comprehensive business plan for that purpose.  

2. Leaders Need Detail

Leaders expressed a desire for nitty gritty detailed plans and best practices based on successful and unsuccessful cafes.  They want to know specifically what it takes to launch and sustain cafes.   

3. Varied Facilitation Works 

Unity Tables' mix of visual presentation, guest speakers and group participation received high reviews. The content we presented also received positive reviews, though not as positive as facilitation.  We believe this is because of the next item: 

4. More Segmentation Needed

We were pleasantly surprised to see participants join from two broad communities.  About 2/3 of participants are familiar with the One World Everybody Eats principles, have 6 or more people on their team and are either already serving or are in advanced stages of planning.  The remainder were at earlier stages of exploring the possibility of starting a cafe.  Many of the experienced leaders came from the existing OWEE community while most of the others were newbies recruited by Unity Tables staff.  Trying to cater to such a wide range meant that the content was somewhat basic for the more experienced groups.  In the future, we will offer a separate introductory webinar for groups in the exploratory phase.  

5. Community & Hunger matter most (though environment matters too)

90% of participants said that either building community or increasing food security was their #1 priority.  At the same time, 80% said they also sought to promote environmental sustainability.  

6. A Community of Practice Needs a Forum 

In order to build a connected movement of cafe leaders, we need to create a forum on which newbies and existing operators could build relationships, ask questions and get feedback from each other, existing operators, and OWEE and UT staff.