June 13, 2016
Midge Steuber is one of the organizers of the “Port Townsend (& Beyond) Vegan Meetup Group” in Port Townsend, Washington. In a seaport community where salmon is king, followed by elk, Midge has started a successful, and thriving pod group. They currently have 142 members, and the group has only been active since November.
Midge has been plant based for 10 years, and began her plant based journey in order to improve her health. After suffering a stroke to her eye 23 years ago, leaving her blind in the right eye, she began on a quest to find what caused her stroke. She says that reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell was her “rosetta stone”, finally giving her an answer (the “keys to the kingdom”), and it’s been history since then. At 63, her life has changed radically within the past 10 years. She’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro twice, ridden her bicycle across route 66, at age 60 she climbed to Mt Everest Base Camp, walked across Kenya, and last summer walked across Spain. She says she’s “traveled around the world and done it plant based – I don’t compromise my health.”
Her enthusiasm and passion have been key in creating a successful and supportive pod group, which began as a meet up group, and has been incorporated into our pod network. One of their recent events is one which carries a unique and inspiring message for other group members and leaders.
While they’ve been having a number of potlucks, during a recent dinner, one of the members approached Midge, expressing her concern over an apparent lack of mindfulness during these events, in contrast to the amount of time put into cooking, and preparation. So several members suggested that a silent dinner would be a delightful way to bring the focus back to a greater appreciation for the food being served, and those that worked to put it on the table : an opportunity for mindful eating and connection.
The groups first silent dinner began with a little social time, followed by members gathering for a brief orientation about the evening ahead. The silent dinner then began with serving of the food, and throughout the meal. Following this, they allowed time for people to write their thoughts on the experience, and then welcomed people that wanted to share. Midge says, “everybody wrote, and shared, and it was profound. It was a great way to connect and reflect. Everyone felt like we took our relationships deeper.” This silent dinner was smaller than their usual potlucks, with 10 people rather than 27. This shared intimate experience created stronger bonds between the members attending. Midge says that it “took all the relationships deeper and richer.” In addition to strengthening bonds amongst members, this experience generates a reverence for cruelty-free food, where it was grown, where it came from, and the hands that prepared it.
When asked about advice she would give to other group leaders and members, she attributes the fast growth of group to having a speaker series, which has included Howard Lyman, Colleen Patrick Goudreau, Dr Richard Oppenlander and plans to bring Dr. Michael Klaper in June. Midge says that “the meet up group is where it began, and that she was inspired to start the speaker series after having the support of the meetup group members.”
The most common thing Midge hears when people join, is that they’re looking for support and want to be around like minded people. Providing this support in multiple outlets has been especially important. Due to the fact that potlucks do sometimes fill up, due to limited space, the group also offers dine outs. This ensures that members won’t slip through the cracks if they haven’t had a chance to participate in potlucks. Dine outs are also great for local plant based restaurants, and provide business promotion for them – especially when there are 142 people involved!
Along with providing multiple outlets for participation, creating an outlet in the form of a “leadership meeting”, in which members are invited to express their thoughts and ideas, has been a great way to encourage input. Midge says that the intention of the leadership meeting was to give members a voice, and an opportunity to share their ideas and to know that their ideas are encouraged and welcome. Overall, the Port Townsend Vegan Group, and Midge’s work as a group leader model the sort of welcoming atmosphere which is essential for spreading the plant based message.
If you’re interested in hosting your own silent dinner, check out Midge’s letter to group members as a template:
Hello wonderful silent dinner guests-
I wanted to send you all a brief letter about our upcoming silent dinner, for an approximate timeline and ideas of what we have planned.
Time: 5:45pm arrival
What to bring:
-Your potluck item plus the ingredients list with a note if it is SOS free (if there is no added salt, oil or sugar) and your name on the card. I will supply plates and glasses.
-A cut flower that you may like to add to our community table center arrangement
Please be mindful of your time and plan on arriving close to 5:45 for a 6:15pm start to our silent dinner.
6:15pm I will sound the gong to indicate time to gather in the kitchen for a few brief comments by our co-host, sweet Pamela, on mindfulness.
6:25pm (approx)I will sound the bell to signal the start of our silent time. (Please be sure that your cell phones and beepers are also off or in silent mode) The intention here is that we will now begin to serve ourselves in a mindful manner and then proceed to the table in silence.
6:25-7:15pm Silent Dinner. You are welcome to return to the kitchen for seconds, thirds, etc…water, drinks and use of the bathroom as needed.
Eye contact with others is absolutely fine…
7:15pm I will ring the bell to indicate the end of the silent dinner period (though still maintain silence). At this point you are welcome to take a pen and paper and write any notes as you feel moved to do so. Feel free to enjoy the living room, parlor or garden…wherever you feel comfortable. Please wait to clear the table and pack up.
7:25pm I will sound the gong to indicate the end of silence (for those who want). At this point some may care to share some things they have written or to process the experience a bit. Please limit sharing to 3 minutes or so…and some folks may choose to stay in silence and leave in that head space…You are welcome to leave or stay and share as you feel moved to.
8:15pm (approx) Close of Silent Dinner Party.
Our actual silent time is just one hour…6:25-7:25 (approx.)
Thank you so much for choosing to participate in this event.
I am looking forward to sharing this special space with each of you.
In health and gratitude,