November 6, 2010

Two Meals with a Friend with Food Allergies.

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Elephants are pretty big. It’s the biggest land animal, and our web site—inspired by the aphorism of the six blind men and the elephant—is now one of the largest in the US devoted to yoga, organics, spirituality, adventure, and eco-responsible living generally.

But the movement that you and I believe in is something bigger than elephant—my own inspiration is less about growing elephant that using elephant to help galvanize fundamental change.

It’s time for business to be of benefit. It’s time for underappreciated yet vital work—non-profits, teachers—to be profitable.

It’s time for kindness and thoughtfulness to be good business, and selfish exploitation (like, say, BP) to be a loser in the marketplace.

I’m not just talking about large corporations. On an immediate, local level we see kindness feed the bottomline, every day.

The other day I went to my favorite restaurant in Boulder. I was with a new friend, a lady who has a list of food allergies longer than most folks’ grocery lists. She’s not one of those choosey, picky eaters, either—she’s apologetic, straightforward about her condition, and sees it as an imposition. I assured her that this thoroughly green-minded restaurant would be able to create something simple for her.

It was lunch. We asked for eggs (which were on the menu with other dishes, but not offered on their own). We were told “no,” which is fine. We thought about going elsewhere, but wanted to enjoy such a great restaurant. So I asked the manager, a longtime acquaintance. She said, “Well, we don’t offer custom dishes, really, but let me see what I can do, should be easy enough.” She came back to say, politely and apologetically, that she couldn’t help us out. Finally, an owner, a chef and man I like a great deal, happened by, and apologized. “We just can’t.”

Thing is, my friend is no diva. We should have just gone elsewhere. But the eggs were 50 feet away, in the kitchen, being cooked and served with other dishes. She has allergies. She didn’t want anything fancy. It’s the kind of moment where a business can follow the rules, or we can be human with one another—be kind.

Last night, I took my friend to Happy Noodle, a restaurant that’s not nearly so “green.” I asked the manager if we could order something custom, off the menu—”Just noodles, this, that. Simple. She can’t eat nuts, garlic, onions or cheese…” He not only said “Of course, we’re here for customers”…but he wrote down the list of allergies she had, and what she wanted, so there’d be no mistakes. The dish was out in five minutes, and was delicious.

I get it. The restaurant industry is tough—customers are prima donnas frequently, I know. I love [XXXX] and will continue to support and enjoy the amazing place they’ve created. But Happy Noodle’s human kindness was more than touchy-feely do-gooderism.

It was damn good business.

I almost never go to Happy Noodle—I try and support restaurants that are “green,” and support elephant, back. But now we’ll go back once a week, knowing that my friend can safely eat a delicious meal, there.

Moral of the story—being personal, and kind is good business. Conscious consumers unite—we’ve created Whole Foods’ success. Let’s continue to support “green,” local and mindful businesses wherever we find them.

Yours in the Vision of Enlightened Society,

Waylon Lewis

editor-in-chief / host
elephantjournal.com / Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis

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