Ditching Social Media? Try “Everybody Eats Lunch” Instead

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January 10th, 2018

Photo courtesy of Christy Chan

Omaha, NE—When Oakland, CA artist Christy Chan and local photographer Alex Matzke shared lunch last fall, their conversation was casual, but their time together was part of a larger art project of Chan’s called “Everybody Eats Lunch.” Chan visited Omaha last fall while taking part in the Bemis Center’s thematic residency focusing on art, empathy and ethos. Working primarily in video, installation, performance and storytelling, Chan used her time in Omaha to develop “Everybody Eats Lunch,” an interactive experiment in which two strangers of different backgrounds share a meal and a conversation. The diners’ time together is recorded, so while they hopefully learn something from each other, others might glean from their stories as well.

“For me, the idea of creating something where we come together over the things we have in common as a starting place, as basic as that thing is, feels really important and primal,” Chan said. “We may feel like we have nothing in common with the other person, but the end of the day, the things that make us human are the things we have in common. Even if the basic things are eating, sleeping, wanting love, wanting to connect to beauty, wanting to connect in itself—those are my personal reasons for wanting to start the project.”

Chan participated in the first installments of “Everybody Eats Lunch” in Omaha, but she’s since returned to Oakland. The project continues to run in both cities, and what started slowly is now exceeding expectations.

“At the moment, the biggest challenge that’s happened with the project is that we really weren’t expecting this many sign ups so quickly. Right now, we have close to 250 sign ups, so that’s potentially 120 or 130 lunches. Right now we are looking for more restaurants to participate, because remember, this is a community project that’s totally volunteer and donation. So we’re looking for more restaurant partners to donate lunches and help make the project happen and bring it to its full fruition. We are going to be asking people to record their conversations and we’ll be sending volunteer photographers out to take photos of the lunches, so that’s another leap of comfort the participants will have to make when they participate in the project.”

Chan stated that the drawbacks of modern media were major factor in developing the project. While the internet can quickly and easily disseminate information, it’s easy for consumers to confine themselves to a single stream of uninterrupted, unchallenged ideology. Chan conceived “Everybody Eats Lunch” before the last presidential election, but tempering political discord has since become an interest.

“I think we’re in a time of difficult conversations. I think difficult conversations are happening whether we seek them out or not, so I’m hoping that by seeking out a conversation with a stranger where you don’t know what’s going to happen and you’re going to have to face the awkwardness—I’m hoping it will take away some of the power of the digital echo chambers that we’re all living in.”

The idea of project is not to facilitate debate, but rather to give two people a chance to share their stories and insights. Diners might be from different places and might have different backgrounds and political opinions, but to Chan, that’s not a reason why they can’t enjoy a meal together.

“I think it’s hard to feel good about our culture some days, and I say that as someone who has lived in different places who interacts with a lot of different types of communities, and for whatever reason, it feels hard to read the newspaper and see the story of who we are as it’s presented in the media sometimes—and as it’s presented just by people we know. I personally want the chance to know that there are more stories out there, that we are not just the clichés or stereotypes, and for me, that helps me feel hopeful, feel more interested, and feel more engaged. As an American and as the daughter of the granddaughter of immigrants, I feel like the worst thing that could happen as a citizen is to become disengaged from our culture.”

Chan hopes that “Everybody Eats Lunch” will eventually expand to become a nationwide project. As of now, residents of Oakland and Omaha who are interested in participating in “Everybody Eats Lunch” can find out more or sign up at EverybodyEatsLunch.com.

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