Friday, April 15, 2011

Dialogue Over Dinner: Little Lamb Rounds

The hardest thing about being a conflict resolution major is the relentless inspiration overload. I seem to experience this with every guest speaker I am introduced to. These are people who give my classmates and I a taste of what our futures could look like. They talk about their adventures, about their focus in the field, about their book(s), about their achievements and failures. There is a level of intimacy felt at every lecture, and in those moments after the talk is over, I picture myself doing what they do, making the world a better place, like a superhero of sorts.

But then, another guest speaker comes, and the previous lecture’s magical words are replaced by another person's.

And people wonder why it seems I’m so scatterbrained, like I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do with my life after graduation.

My answer? I’m going to live it. Conflict resolution isn’t a profession; it’s a discipline.

The reason I bring this up is because the guest speaker at yesterday’s conference inspired me. I mean, he really inspired me, in the “oh-my-goodness-he’s-doing-what-I-want-to-do” kind of way. His work literally combines the three things I identify with: conflict resolution, the arts, and food.

So just who was this amazing guest speaker that inspired me? The person whose talk ended with stars in my eyes and my heart swelling with emotion?

Tell me, have you ever heard of Busboys and Poets?

Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist, and restaurateur, created B&P in 2005 as a community resource for other artists, activists, writers, thinkers, and dreamers. He was originally a biology major on his way to be becoming a doctor, but along the way he decided that it wasn’t his calling… so, he quit.

That stuck with me. There is an art to quitting at just the right moment. On the drive home after the lecture I considered the word “quit”. In reality, the word has a negative connotation to it that leaves such a bitter taste on the tongue. If someone calls you a quitter, it means you failed in the worst way possible, that you never see things through, that you are a disappointment to the human species as a whole. But Andy put it into perspective for me. I think he used the word “quit” to mean that, if something doesn’t resonate with you, you move on to things that do.

I mean, why stick with things you aren’t passionate about when there are other things out there that you could excel in simply because it’s an extension of what you’re all about?

The word “quit” shouldn’t always implicate laziness, fickleness, or giving up. To put it in a positive lighting, it means moving on and trying out other things until it’s the perfect fit. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t work towards the things I want, that I’m going to walk out on something when times are tough and I am face to face with failure now and then, or that I’m only going to do things I feel I’m really good at.

That’s not quitting. That’s being mediocre.

So I make it a daily practice to ask myself: Is this really working? If not, I move on.

That’s one of my mantras. “No” is just another word for “next”.

Anyway, Busboys and Poets is a community-gathering place, a public space where people are expected to come in with open hearts and not necessarily to change another person’s mind. The idea behind it is to “create an environment where shared conversations over food and drink allow the progressive, artistic and literary communities to dialogue, educate and interact.”

And it’s true what he said. There is something about food that brings out dialogue in any given place. Could it be one basic human need is being met and, therefore, we are more inclined to speak because something has been fulfilled? Could it be that the sharing of a plate between two people brings about a level of intimacy that wouldn’t otherwise be felt? Andy Shallal seems to have this down to a science. To paraphrase him: “Offer them food and they will come.”

Fired up? Got something to say? Here, have some hummus. Because, really, how can you say something hateful when there’s delicious food on the plate in front of you? How can you not try to understand an opposing view when it’s being discussed over piping hot coffee the way you like it and the tastiest sweets you have ever had?

B&P is a way to build a physical community within an era of social networking and cyber reality. Are your Facebook friends considered to be members of your personal community? Do you really define them as friends in real life? He was told that places like B&P, movie theaters, and other community gatherings would be obsolete in a matter of years, simply because people could socialize in the comforts of their own homes in front of their computer screens. The truth? Movie theaters and establishments like B&P are more prosperous than ever because people feel more alone, isolated, overwhelmed, and depressed than previous generations.

There is an upside, however. Without social networking I would have never been able to see what other gluten free bloggers are producing from their selective kitchens. I wouldn’t have many of the contacts that I have today. People from all over the world are part of the Food Revolution, and by using cyber space we can unite for the cause, share recipes, and tell our stories. Yet I think it is really just many communities linked by one belief system. Only when we come together and meet face to face does the community expand and flourish.

One day in the near future I hope to meet the bloggers who’ve inspired me to take my holistic journey to the next level, either at a conference or in a kitchen.

As for the B&P community, I had the chance to meet with Andy after his talk and gave him my contact information as well as the link to Meals with Morri. He is unquestionably a person that I want to work with. He is a man with such an open heart, kind eyes, and his work in the community is the perfect example of what I envision on doing after I graduate.

I originally intended on having a conflict resolution firm that focused on the community, but apropos to international issues (or vice versa). As my graduation date is less than twelve credits away from being a reality, it seemed that I had a knack in the kitchen, sharing good meals and amazing dialogue with people I love. Like Rémy (from my all-time favorite Pixar movie Ratatouille), “I can't choose between two halves of myself.” And quite frankly, I don’t want to.

I half-jokingly say to people, “all the time, the effort, the funding towards my college education… and half of me just wants to open a restaurant.”

Well, why not do both? Who’s to say I can’t?

The best conversations I’ve ever had were over food. Sometimes they were a little heated or hard things to discuss, but it seems that there was always a mutual understanding and genuine respect for one another, always a joint effort towards deep listening that was well maintained after the plates were licked clean. And when someone I love has a particularly bad day, I make a meal and offer myself to be present to them in every sense of the word. Over a meal, everyone has the ability to unclog their ears, open their hearts, and practice the art of appreciative inquiry. This recipe produced a similar outcome.

Little Lamb Rounds

1 lb. Ground lamb
1 Egg
1 Small red onion
1/2 c. Chopped spinach
1/4 tsp. Sea salt
2 Garlic cloves
1 tbsp. Olive oil
Dash of nutmeg and cinnamon, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the ground lamb, egg, salt, and spices.
Finely chop the red onion, garlic, and spinach (or put it through the food processor to make the veggies a consistent size), and put it into the bowl with the other ingredients.
Mix until thoroughly combined.
Make into balls roughly the size of your palm and put them into greased muffin tins.
Put it into the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until done.

Makes 8 rounds. 

Serve with sour cream or tzaztiki as a sauce. I heartily recommend having it with a sweet potato and a light salad on the side to complete the dish.

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