Monday, November 16, 2015
These dinners are a sensory experience, designed to simulate what it's like to actually be blind. We were told beforehand that people have different reactions to being in the total darkness; some people are fine, for others, it brings up different emotions. They encourage you to work through it, but if you really need to escape, you're told to yell for help, and some one will come to escort you out.
In small groups, we were led by a visually impaired host through a series of curtains into a pitch black dining area and to our tables. We placed a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, and we progressed slowly into the darkness. This was accomplished by clutching my complimentary glass of wine (in a plastic cup, probably much safer that way) in one hand and grasping the shoulder of my friend Linda of Girls Eats World (and a link to her blind experience here), as we took baby steps to acclimate ourselves. Once our guide knew each of us was standing behind a chair, he left us to our own devices to sit down and fumble around as it were. I will reiterate: the room was PITCH black! You could NOT see your hand in front of your face, even if it was an inch from your nose; I tried. Repeatedly. My brain registered the same level of darkness whether my eyes were open or shut. You know when you're lying in bed with your eyes closed trying to go to sleep, and you sometimes see little patterns of light or color dancing in front of your eyes? THAT, with your eyes open!
I could feel the curve of the table, so I knew we were seated at a round table with a rough top (standard banquet/rental table), no tablecloth. The food was already on the table (all vegan and gluten free), and there was a heavy-duty paper plate (like Chinet plates with that lightly embossed fibrous texture on them) with a bottle of water and napkin at about 2 o'clock. I started feeling around the plate, and just as someone at my table of six exclaimed "there's a spoon!", I found my own.
But it was rather fun sitting there feeling everything, trying to figure out what things were with my fingers. I could tell there was something round and squishy, which turned out to be stuffed mushrooms. Lightly roasted carrots with a hummus dip, which I pretty slurped off my fingers. The spoon seemed useless in some ways. Something leafy...lettuce wraps done in Asian flavors that I couldn't quite pinpoint. Turns out to be an orange miso dressing that was delicious. Roasted Brussels. Food was prepared by local chef Dustin Lundewall of Wholesome Body Now. If you want to cheat, you can check out his Instagram photo of the meal, but if you think you might want to attend a Blind Cafe dinner, maybe you shouldn't! ;)
We were told before we entered the room there was a basket of bread (the one non-gluten free item) in the middle of our table. One of our six was able to find it, and began passing it and a small open container of olive oil. I remember groping for the arm of my table mate to my right, as we gingerly passed the oil around, double checking with one another "ok, got it?". The initial trepidation culminating in a mini-rush of success for accomplishing a small task. As a sighted person, you take for granted the seemingly simple tasks of passing an item to someone else. You can see their outstretched hand; clearly not an option when you are blind.
The dinner is structured so the visually impaired hosts have a chance to tell the audience a bit about themselves, and then people can ask questions. All four of our hosts had been sighted earlier in their lives; one person lost his vision at the age of two, others in their teens. They all lead normal, productive lives. They discussed the ways they identify colors (descriptive adjectives) and articles of clothing (some use safety pins in the tags pinned in different ways to notify them what's what), the advent of an iOS phone app designed to assist in different situations, like one Be My Eyes. And of course one of the strongest messages of the evening, blind people don't have to be treated any differently than a sighted person. Ask if you can assist, don't assume they need your help; offer your arm, but don't grab theirs. Be that positive social change.
The Blind Cafe will be returning to Austin February 2 - 4, 2016 again at the American Legion. I do not know if the chef will be the same, but the food was good, though the food itself is a minor part of this whole experience. Go "see" what the Blind Cafe is up to, as you may be the one who is enlightened.