Dining in the Dark

While we were in Vancouver last fall 📷, my wife and I visited Dark Table in Kitsilano near The Naam for some “blind dining” with some friends. 🍽️

Blind dining means you enter a restaurant that is completely pitch dark from beginning to end, and you are served by a waitstaff who are literally blind.

Some people say your taste, smell, hearing, and touch are amplified so much with your vision switched off, the food tastes better and the experience is more meaningful and memorable. I agree with the latter, but it did nothing for my enjoyment of the food to not be able to see it.

I paid much more attention to the space I was in, trying to orient myself by touch and sound. It was not terribly difficult, and eventually it became fairly peaceful, but there were a lot of people in the room, so it was quite noisy. In relative silence I could see it being very relaxing, with interesting conversations. As it was, I just tuned out and all the conversations at other tables washed over me in the dark within a space that felt claustrophobic and crowded but finally infinite and oceanic.

Sharing dishes and moving plates around was challenging. Figuring out how much food I had, where it was, and how much was left was not possible without doing things with my hands that would look awful to sighted people in a normally lit space. So much work goes into simply trying to look normal and not embarrass yourself in light of “normal” (sighted) standards!

Disabilities separate you from the norms of commonly shared and understood experiences.

What is most striking and memorable about the experience of an extended period of blindness in a public space is how difficult and stressful it can be — trying not to make a mess and embarrass yourself! — and how quickly it starts to be manageable.

Since everyone else is in the same boat at Dark Table, you realize you don’t have to worry too much about shame. They can’t see you! Of course, that is not how it is for people without sight or another impaired sense. Disabilities separate you as an individual from the norms of commonly shared and understood experiences of others. This is very lonely. What is hard for you, what is not obvious to you, and what you need is so clear — and yet completely overlooked by everyone else. You are encouraged to self-blame. What’s your problem?

A little time spent dining in the dark is a great way to really experience basic accessibility challenges in public spaces and around food. Everyone should try it. It will change your thinking.

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