Great Expectations For Middle of the Road Food

It is probably no surprise to learn that food brings communities together. CityLab recently had a piece about a group in Tallahassee, FL that received a grant from the Knight Foundation to support a project called “The Longest Table,” intended to bring 400 strangers from all parts of the city,

“…to use the dinner table as a medium for generating meaningful conversation among people of diverse ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds.”

I was thinking this sounded a lot like a project I wrote about last fall that occurred in Akron, OH that also set up tables down the middle of the road in order to bring 500 people together for a meal and discussion about how a highway that was being closed down might be re-purposed.

It turns out on closer investigation, not only was that also sponsored by the Knight Foundation, there was an earlier iteration of the Tallahassee meal that occurred last October within a week of the one in Akron.

I think this is secretly a plot by the Knight Foundation to identify the best cooks around the country for some nefarious end!

Actually, an element of that was central to the Akron 500 Plates project. (the identifying good cooks part, not nefarious plotting)

The artists and collaborators collected recipes from each of the 22 neighborhoods in the city and printed them on each of the plates so that everyone went home with a recipe from someone in the community. Then they built tables and distributed them to each of the neighborhoods to provide a gathering point at which conversations and community meals could continue.

500 Plates has made the recipes and toolkit for replicating this in the neighborhoods and other cities available on their website.

The participants in both projects talk about how the format lends itself to discussing somewhat sensitive topics because the environment sets people a little more at ease. This type of event may help arts organizations come in contact and start a conversation with the elusive demographic of people we never meet in order to learn what their barriers to involvement are.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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