Dining in the Dark

A fun event for Southeastern Guide Dogs.

By Hannah Wallace September 29, 2015

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Here’s one challenge about eating blindfolded: green beans. Difficult to locate on the plate, difficult to get on your fork, and harder still to fit in your mouth without, y’know, poking yourself in the eye or something.

Consider this among the many lessons learned at Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Dining in the Dark event this past weekend, which, in addition to introducing a roomful of sighted supporters to the perils of blind dining, also included a lovely talk by retired U.S. Marine Michael Jernigan, as well as the revelation of a fun new art project coming soon to the streets of Sarasota.

After the salad course (the event was catered by Kona Grill), the room full of Southeastern supporters at the Grande Clubhouse at the Lake Club was asked to don their blindfolds and await the entrée. As they set the plates down, servers told each diner that the Chilean sea bass was paired with rice, and the steak was paired with green beans. And then, we just had at it.

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Ruth Lando and I, in a not-so-centered selfie.

Though I wasn’t above using my fingers to locate various items on the plate, I proudly relied on my flatware to carve and serve my food. (Though many, many disappointing times I brought the fork to my mouth only to discover it was empty.)

I went mostly for a straight up-and-down approach, stabbing things from above and hoping they’d stick. To my right, Ruth Lando, media relations manager for Southeastern Guide Dogs, was apparently employing more of a side-to-side scooping method. At the end of the meal, she discovered most of her green beans had fled her plate and landed on the table (or the floor).

I even managed to treat myself to a few sips of wine—slowly sliding my hand on the table, past the plate to find the glass, as we’d been instructed (stemware being yet another tricky part of the experience).

Another interesting lesson: Because you can’t see your plate (and also, perhaps, your frustration may mount), you don’t feel obligated to eat everything in front of you.

This is the sort of mile-in-your-shoes experience that surpasses an organization’s usual information sessions and provides fresh insight into its mission and its clientele.

That being said, Jernigan, a St. Pete native and the first U.S. servicemember to lose both eyes in combat in Iraq, is a true asset to the cause. An easy and charismatic speaker in dress blues, he gave an overview of his life before, during and after service, illustrating the irreplaceable importance of his guide dog—both for mobility and emotional support.

Lastly, Southeastern Guide Dogs announced its “Superheroes on Parade” campaign, which will feature 50 life-size statues of guide dogs in capes, all to be decorated by local artists and publicly on display around town. No word on when and where to spot them just yet, but the project will culminate a little over a year from now with an event on Palm Avenue, Oct. 8, 2016.

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