Activity: Structure and Needs

In general, this practice is inexpensive and does not require a large time and energy investment, and food is also one of the best ways to gather people around a table and initiate dialogue. Individuals interested in participating in a dinner dialogue event can sign up online and would then be grouped by the planners based on location and neighbourhood. Groups are formed while encouraging diversity. During the dinner, participants are given dialogue cards that include questions for generating discussion. Dinner dialogues can happen once or several times a year and can also be organized around a theme or topic.

Interfaith meal sharing can take the form of a welcome dinner for refugees, which would be set in a room belonging to a community or an association. Different faith communities would be invited to participate. The dinner is a potluck, where each person invited brings food or drinks. Each refugee presents themselves by stating when they arrived in the country and what they used to do in their country of origin. Everyone shares a dinner while trying to learn about one another's culture.

Sharing food with people in need is an initiative that should be regularly organized, to make sure it becomes a tradition (once a week for example). It is a way for people living in the same place to share dinner with new people and share their culinary specialties. Opening one’s doors to those in need is at the center of this initiative. The interfaith food day is suitable for an international environment, as it targets the question of identity through cultural dishes. Each person presents their national dish, what it is made of, where it comes from, whether it has a religious meaning etc. On this particular day, participants get to show a bit of who they are by presenting what kind of food reminds them of home or represents their cultural background.


Objectives: Impact and Focus

This promising practice emphasizes hospitality and listening as keys to building trust, thereby offering a chance for strangers to become neighbours. Families who have just arrived to a new country can share their food and get to know people from their welcoming country. This practice shows the host country’s openness and hospitability. This should assist the refugee families, and help them overcome the stress and trauma of the home country and the conflict that affected them. A network of different religious communities can also assist them to find jobs or long term housing. The dinner is also an opportunity for local people to meet foreigners with intense life stories, and to become conscious of the challenges and the extent of religious diversity. This event also introduces locals to the refugees’ home country cuisine.

Another concept behind sharing meals is to put into practice some commandments of the holy books, while cooperating and collaborating with people of different beliefs. There is a dual impact to this initiative. First, the interfaith group goes beyond dialogue, uniting together to help others in need; second, this initiative shows how religious people can positively impact people around them through holy teachings. Also, this initiative can be conducted on a broader scale as it is easily transposable to any other kind of situation. Through the interfaith food day, children might notice that, though they have different faiths, they share a common culture. For example, Sephardic Jews may present common dishes with Muslims from the Maghreb like couscous. Furthermore, the initiative can also introduce different eating practices, such as Vegetarianism, Veganism, Pescatarian, etc. Food then becomes a way to not only discover one’s classmate but also to build bridges.


Field Data: Examples and Sources (Activity – Organisation – Location)

1.) Dinner Dialogues – Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston – Houston, Texas, USA

Dinner Dialogues: The Dinner Dialogues in Houston were inspired by The Amazing Faith of Texas, a book by Roy Spence. In 2007, Houston Mayor Bill White wanted to discover a way to implement  the virtues outlined in the book: tolerance and understanding, and thus created the Dinner Dialogue in collaboration with  the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and the Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance at Rice University. The initial Dinner Dialogues were held at 20 homes in Houston, drawing 250 participants. The second event was held in November 2007 and included 75 homes and 750 participants across Texas.

Since its take off in Houston, Dinner Dialogues have been replicated in four additional cities in Texas—Austin, Brennan, Dallas, and San Antonio—as well as in Syracuse, NY, Oklahoma, OK, Chicago, IL, Washington, D.C., and Greenville, SC. The model has also served as an example for the “Youth Dinner Dialogues” and campus-based Dinner Dialogues, which have been organized across the nation.


2.) Refugees Welcome Interfaith Dinner – Shoulder to Shoulder – Washington DC, USA

Shoulder to Shoulder, parishes and Muslim communities have organized a "Refugees welcome" week in different cities of the US, from Washington DC to New York. Different religious and non-religious institutions come together as a sign of solidarity for the new comers. They organize dinners, campaigns and other events to raise awareness about the presence of refugees in the country, as well as to welcome them and reassure during this difficult moment of their lives.


3.) Come Share my Dinner – Berrigan House – Wellington, New Zealand

In Wellington, the Berrigan House, which is a house shared by young students from different denominations (Catholic, Protestants and non-believers), promotes humanist values through the activities carried out by its members. The youth living there often dedicate themselves to fighting for minorities’ rights, notably Maoris, and the poor. “Come Share my Dinner” is one of the initiatives they have launched to live their faith and help those in need.

4.) Interfaith Food Day – Braeburn International School – Arusha, Tanzania

The Braeburn International School aims to make its students citizens of the world. In order for that to happen, kids have to be fully aware of the diversity surrounding them and how they should embrace the pluralism of their environment. Food has always been and will always be one of the most common ways to have people talk and learn more about each other. Having kids prepare their own dishes is also a way to display the pride they take in their own cultural heritage.