In a rare philosophical moment for this blog, I’m going to start this post with an old Vietnamese parable, on the nature of heaven and hell:
‘What are the differences between Heaven and Hell?’, a young Zen monk asked an aged Buddhist priest who was renowned for his wisdom.
‘There are no material differences,’ replied the old monk.
‘None at all?’ asked the puzzled young monk.
‘That’s right. Both Heaven and Hell have a spacious hall with a big pot in the center in which noodles are boiled, giving off a delicious scent,’ said the old priest. ‘The size of the huge pan, the number of people sitting around the pot and the bowl of sauce placed in front of each diner are the same in both places.’
‘The odd thing is that each diner is given a pair of meter-long chopsticks and must use them to eat the noodles.’
‘To eat the noodles, you must hold the chopsticks properly at their ends,’ the old monk told the young Zen monk.
‘In the case of Hell’s kitchen, people are always hungry because no matter how hard they try, they can’t get the noodles into their mouths,’ said the old priest.
‘But isn’t it the same case for the people in Heaven?’ the junior monk inquired.
‘No. They can eat because they each feed the person sitting opposite them at the table. That’s the difference between Heaven and Hell,’ explained the old monk.
A wonderful little story, and rather relevant to my project. Many thanks to Stuart Bannocks for sending me it.
So I decided that it would probably be quite fun to see how such a situation would work, and see if eating collaboratively really is just like heaven.
Being, as I am, a carnivorous northern englishman rather than a vietnamese monk, I use a knife and fork and eat sausages. Even chopsticks of a regular length represent a significant challenge for me. So I made some metre long knives and forks, and set out on a more “full english” approach to ancient eastern parable.
Heres an abridged video of the meal.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/20843576 w=500&h=400]
It was bloody good fun, I have to say. It was amazing how quickly you get used to feeding, and being fed by, someone else. The simple extension of eating tools facilitates a completely new social experience, where co-operation and sharing is necessary to getting a good meal. Just as the Buddhist priest said.
Is it heaven? Looking at the aftermath, probably not. I might look into how to refine this experience more to accommodate this behaviour – what would a collaborative-eating restaurant look like?
There’s a certain child-like nature to using these collaborative tools I’ve been creating. They require you to forget your previous privately oriented behaviour and go back to being more open and willing to share and rely on others. This is what I’m looking for.
Maybe I’m getting somewhere.