It’s a fact that the absence of one sense intensifies the experience of other senses. Listening to a record after sitting in the dark for a bit makes the music sound brand new, your ears newly sensitive without the distraction of sight. Oddly, time spent in a soundproof booth enhances your sense of smell. And, dining in the dark makes the menu miraculously more delicious. We take for granted that we’ll be able to flick the lights back on after dinner and glimpse what we ate — but some aren’t so lucky.
Northwestern’s Unite For Sight is on a mission to increase awareness of and raise funds for the blind and visually impaired. Just $50 pays for surgeries that can reverse the effects of lifelong cataracts, pterygium and other ocular afflictions common in poverty-stricken regions worldwide. “Dining in the Dark” is the organization’s effort to make that money go toward something greater than a satisfied stomach at the end of the night.
For the event this past Tuesday, May 21, 32 guests showed up at Tech’s Cohen Commons, which was decked out for a full course meal — not that anyone could tell. The entire meal was served in complete darkness in order to pay respect to the visually impaired. The menu included favorites from Thai Sookdee, Dave’s Italian Kitchen, Buffalo Wild Wings and Mt. Everest. For just $8 a head, diners chose from entrées like tofu pad thai, vegetarian biriyani, deep dish pizza, wings or tacos from Aguas Tortas. Dessert was also served and included apple pie à la mode with homemade caramel sauce. Needless to say, the fare was delicious enough that only being able to see the outline on the plate made no difference at all.
By the end of the night, the fundraiser generated $300 toward sight-saving surgeries in Ghana, Honduras and India. While Chicago restaurants like Opacity also feature “dine in the dark” meals with the intent of heightening other senses, Unite for Sight’s proceeds go toward a much loftier cause. The Northwestern chapter, started last year by Holly Romaniak and her Plex suitemate Shirley Xu, aims to raise $750 annually to send to eye clinics in support of sight-restoring surgeries and follow-up care. While the group primarily hosts bake sales and other small events, including a screening of the documentary “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” in early May, “Dining in the Dark” has proven to be both the largest and most successful event the group has hosted yet.
Exercising the gift of taste on a meal of pizza and apple pie is an honorable way to spend any evening, but perhaps the most important thing guests took away from Dining in the Dark was an appreciation for the gift of sight and the satisfaction of knowing they did their part in ensuring as few people as possible have to go without it.
Special thanks to the UFS exec board and Dining in the Dark kitchen and wait-staff: Sarah Ahmed, Matt Du, Andrew Kuang and Vivian Wang; and Andrew, Matt, Vivian and Sarah.