On Saturday, over 130 students filled Dodd Living Room to capacity in a massive showing for the College’s first “Empty Bowl Dinner.” The gathering was organized by the Williams Ceramics Club and the newly operational Food Group, a collection of mindful students who use connections and experiences with food and food culture to build community. Max Harmon ’18, a member of the Ceramics Club, said that the event was meant “as a space for students to gather, breathe together and think about the social and ecological systems underlying food.”
Motivated by a desire to create a time for gathering and communion while discussing issues of food security within the Berkshires, members of the Ceramics Club were hard at work over the past four weeks to produce 120 unique bowls. These beautiful bowls, each hand-spun and originally designed by members of the Ceramics Club, were given to participants in the Empty Bowl Dinner. Distributed along with a variety of homemade dishes including carrot parsnip soup, roasted vegetables and home-baked pumpernickel bread, the initially empty bowls represented the lack of social justice when it comes to ensuring food security for all.
Through donations collected at the Dinner, the Ceramics Club and the Food Group raised $1500 for the Berkshire Food Project (BFP), which serves meals to people living in North Adams. “The [BFP] began in response to the closing of Sprague Electric, when many people in North Adams and communities surrounding Williams became food insecure,” Harmon explained.
The BFP is an organization with roots in the College. In 1986, a group of students supported by Reverend Elizabeth Wheeler and several local residents started a free lunch program in North Adams. As the organization evolved, it began to serve three hot meals each week, Monday through Friday, no questions asked—a streak unbroken since the fall of 1987. The BFP will host its own Empty Bowl Dinner on May 4, which participants in Saturday’s Dinner were urged to attend. This event hopes to continue shaping the food culture in the greater Berkshire area.
In the opening remarks of Saturday’s Dinner, Isaiah Blake ’21 and Executive Director of the Berkshire Food Project Kim McMann both stressed the importance of thankfulness and togetherness, values championed by all students involved. Annalee Tai ’21 of the Ceramics Club also spoke. “The idea is that there is a way to engage with food, and there’s also away to engage with craft that is wholesome and expresses gratitude for the materials you’re working with,” she said. Later on in the night, attendees were also given the opportunity to share their own personal ideas of gratitude; Blake then led the group in a breathing exercise, putting awareness on everybody’s mind before the food went out.
Harmon said that these practices and the Dinner functioned as a way for the College community to think more about social justice through the discussion of access to healthy food. “The group that made this all happen is dedicated to thinking about ways of engaging food justice on this campus,” he said.
Marshall Borrus ’20, who also helped organize the Dinner, is hopeful that the College and students will think more critically about food justice. “On the horizon, there’s a lot of movement,” he said. “People are conceptualizing how Williams as an institution engages with food and how the infrastructure in place resources food and manages staff in Dining Services… There’s a lot of movement around [how] those things are structured, how we’re connected with those things.”