As the lights came on, I looked down at my companion’s immaculate dish and compared it my own crumb covered one. I asked him if he literally licked his plate clean—to which he replied with a proud and matter-offact, “Yes… It’s not like anyone was watching.” It’s amazing the liberation one can experience when there is no fear of being judged.
At the Seattle Blind Café last Friday, I had a dining experience unlike any that I’ve had before. It challenged my notions about disability and blindness, pushed me out of my comfort zones
and made me understand the joy of experiences unspoiled by technological distractions or feelings of self-consciousness.
The Seattle Blind Café a pop-up event of the Colorado based nonprofit organization, Boulder County Arts Alliance based in Colorado.
It is a vegetarian sensory tasting experience prepared by a local chef, complete with keynote addresses, a question and answer forum and a concert of original music. Oh, and if I forgot to mention, it takes place in total darkness—not the kind of dark in which you could discern a few blurry silhouettes, but the kind of dark in which you could not see me even if our noses were touching.
When I first heard about this community awareness event, facilitated by legally blind staff, I knew immediately that it was an experience I shouldn’t miss.
According to the event website, the café is meant to inspire positive social change nationwide, so that participants can walk away as more understanding people and as advocates for the blind and visually impaired. It is not meant to simulate what it is like to be blind, as it is impossible to completely understand what it is like to have that experience.
I walked into Nalanda West, a Buddhist temple and co-sponsor of the café, around 8:30 p.m. My excitement turned into nervousness, and my stomach began to churn as we waited to be guided into the specially designed dark room. The realization that I would soon be sitting in the dark for almost two hours with about thirty strangers, relying solely on my voice and sense of touch to communicate, finally hit me. I would have no idea what I was eating until I was already tasting it. Seeing my food before I eat was a privilege I had never considered before.
Rick Hammond, assistant director of Blind Awareness Educational Impact and the blind keynote facilitator for the night, led us into the dark room in trains of eight, one hand placed on the shoulder of the person standing in front of us. As we moved through a specially designed structure meant to keep out the light, I felt my eyes move frantically in search of something to focus
on—and naturally failed. The chatter around me verged on cacophony, but as soon as Rick guided me to my seat, I began to make sense of the noise and voices around me. My dinner companions and I searched for each other’s voices, introduced our selves in the dark and joked, “You look lovely tonight.”
My hands fumbled around to make sense of my environment. The texture of my food was some parts grainy and cold, some parts hard and other part soft and wet. I worked with my dining companions to find our bread bowl and pass it around. I was happy that no one could see how clumsily I was shoveling food onto my spoon and the uncomfortably close distance of my face to my plate. Simply put, the meal was incredible.
I ate a medley of quinoa, tomatoes, baked carrots and tomatoes, bread and olive oil, hummus and tofu that tasted more like cheese than soy product. I don’t blame my dinner companion for licking his plate, and somewhat regret not doing the same. Much of the conversation that night was about how much we relished the exquisite food. We arrived at the core of the
event halfway through the meal: a question and answer with Rick, who is completely blind in his right eye and has very limited vision in his left eye, during which he answered our questions about blindness and shattered common stereotypes about disability in general.
He said that the most common stereotype about being blind, is that blind people are incapable of doing anything by themselves, or that they have superhuman capabilities, similar to the Marvel superhero, Daredevil. I must admit that I believed this incorrect notion that blind people have enhanced senses of hearing, touch, smell and taste, but Hammond dispelled those rumors and said that he has not found them to be true. Afterwards, he read a heartfelt poem he wrote about the historical marginalization of those with disabilities. We finished our meal with a beautiful avocado, dark-chocolate mousse and began to listen to the original music of Rosh Rocheleau, one of the founders of the event, whose voice compares to that of a grittier Jack Johnson.
I found myself sinking deeper into the listening experience and was perfectly content with the fact that, without my phone, I had no concept of time. I finally allowed my eyes, which I had previously kept open the majority of the time, to close as I listened.
As our two hours together came to an end, a candle was lit and everyone in the room let out a collective gasp.
It was easily the most striking light I had ever seen.
It was a night that I will never forget—Or see.
The next Blind Café pop-up event will be in Boulder, CO from Oct. 22-24.
Melissa may be reached at [email protected]