To attend ChangeCamp you need two things: to have bought a ticket and brought some food to contribute to a shared lunch.
The food contribution is not a common requirement when you go to a conference or workshop, usually food is provided at the venue.
That’s not the case at ChangeCamp, but it’s probably not for the reason you’re thinking of.
It’s not just about saving money
It is true that having you bring your food to the event saves money. ChangeCamp runs on a shoestring budget, usually there is just enough to cover the venue hire and expenses.
If we had to budget for catering then you could expect the cost of the event to double.
While it’s good to have you bring food contributions to keep the event affordable that’s that’s only the third most important reason.
The important reasons for the shared lunch are to foster community and encourage contribution.
Humans have been sharing meals since the dawn of time. It’s a hugely important part of our culture and background to share a meal together. It’s probably wired into a DNA by now.
In pre-history we might have gathered around the camp fire, or huddled together in a cave, but the fact that you were there and that you could share in whatever food was available was proof that you belonged in that community.
You could feast together or starve together. Being part of a tribe, group or a community was vital to your survival, you would almost certainly starve if you were on your own.
Eating together is a hugely important sign of belonging to a community.
The ChangeCamp shared picnic meal is a chance for everyone in the temporary, twice yearly community to meet together and eat together. The days events are talked over, new friendships are formed and old friendships are renewed over the shared meal, the meal that everyone has contributed to.
This shared meal only exists if people contribute to it. To feed ourselves and each other we have to make a little act of generosity. We have to add our offering, however modest, to the meal.
Generosity, or doing something for others is a well known factor in happiness. So as a bonus for being part of the community you have a chance to feel good about it in a way you wouldn’t get if you just turned up and took from others.
Contributing to the meal can feed your soul as well as your body.
In my opinion the combination of community and contribution makes a blessing out of a necessity.
Buddist Monks and Amish Barn Raisings
The idea for the shared meal from two unusual sources.
On feast days at my local Buddhist monastery (out beyond Belsay, Northumberland) the custom is for the lay people who are attending to bring a food offering for the monks. Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition are alms mendicant, which means they depend on the generosity of the lay people for their survival. If the lay people don’t provide the food, the monks go hungry.
On feast days there is no danger of anyone going hungry. Thai and Sri Lankan supporters of the monastery bring large amounts of food, the locals also bring many, less spicy, offerings to the table.
What you get is a huge picnic of delicious food which you took small part in creating, and a great pleasure in sharing. The atmosphere of the event is suffused with generosity and good will. That atmosphere I was looking to recreate with shared lunch at ChangeCamp.
Another example of this shared community endeavour appears in the film “Witness”, mostly set in an Amish community. Towards the end of the film, there are scenes of an Amish barn raising. In which the community help build a barn for some of it’s members and enjoys a shared meal at the end of it. It’s a great depiction of a very ancient and powerful community involvement.
In my mind at least, ChangeCamp is a small, temporary, fluid community of people who are committed to personal growth and development. Some of the participants may find that in the outside world their interests are not understood or even ridiculed.
So it’s nice to have a place to come to where people “get it”, and what better way to be together with fellow travellers than to break bread together.