Food for Thought - A New Era

by Danell Jones - Food for Thought attendee, Food for Thought Table Host and friend and supporter of the Billings Public Library Foundation

This could be a disaster, we thought. And did it anyway.

Anyone who has attended Food for Thought knows the feeling.

As you step into the bustling lobby of the Billings Public Library, you see people smiling, detect the scent of delicious food, and hear the buzz of conversation. The atmosphere fizzes with anticipation.

What will the evening bring?

Everyone wonders what they will be discussing tonight.

Will it be filmmaking?
The Civil War?
Or maybe smart architecture!

With more than 25 conversations to choose from, there’s one thing that’s certain: it will be something interesting.

The crowd streams upstairs where laughter swirls among the books, glossy magazines, and computers. Warm evening light spills into the room as wine glasses fill and the scent of pesto and fresh bread wafts through the air.

The Mayor welcomes everyone to Food for Thought, the Billings Public Library Foundation’s signature fundraising event.

Soon it’s time for the main event. Beautifully set tables with fresh flowers and sparkling place settings have turned the main floor of the Library into your own special dining room. Whirling through the crowd, you find your table, meet your host, settle into your seat, and greet your fellow conversationists. You may find a familiar face or be introduced to new ones. But if you’ve been to Food for Thought even once, you know that by the time you leave, you’ll have made new friends. That’s just what happens when you break bread and share ideas with a table full of interesting people.

As dinner is served, you dive into your topic. Your table host may guide a discussion about public education, or addiction, or comedy. Or you’ll talk about trails in the Beartooth, art, or winemaking. Everyone has something to say. You agree. You disagree. You laugh. You learn.

As the evening wraps up, no one wants to leave. You wish it could go on forever.

***

Suddenly everything changes. We are in the middle of a global pandemic.

The board of the Foundation and a dedicated group of volunteers make the scary decision to take Food for Thought….virtual.

Everyone is wondering the same thing: can this possibly work? When you get rid of the beautiful atmosphere and the joy of sitting around a table together, what do you have left?

But the indomitable Library Foundation board forges ahead and plans a virtual event.  

And you know what? Everyone is glad they did!

Virtual Food for Thought isn’t the same as the traditional event—how could it be?—but it is amazing in its own way.

First of all, what could be more delightful after months of your own boring cooking to have a beautiful platter of exotic cheeses, crackers, spiced nuts, aromatic olives, and hummus hand-delivered to your door? And who wouldn’t welcome a jingling bag of wine as well as bourbon, bitters, twists of lemon, and other ingredients for making cocktails?

The Zoom event begins with a lesson from the inspiring Courtney McKee of Headframe Spirits in Butte demonstrating how to make an Old Fashioned.  

A few delicious sips later, it’s time for breakout rooms.

Zoom takes us to our virtual tables where, in my case, I meet certified beekeeper Lindsey Hoffmann and six other bee-curious guests. An active member of the Yellowstone Valley Beekeepers Club, she shows us a model hive and talks to us about the ins and out of bee keeping on the high plains. We inundate her with questions: how many bees in a colony? How long does a Queen live? Have you ever been stung? Lindsey leaves us with list of plants to grow in our very own gardens to support pollinators and an invitation to come see her hives in the spring.

Our conversation was every bit as thrilling as all my other Food for Thought experiences.

I switch off my computer with a full tummy and a humming mind. I learned so much. I met such interesting people. I feel enriched, grateful, happy.

***

Maybe you’ve never been to Food for Thought.

Or maybe you suffer from Zoom-fatigue.

Put your hesitations aside.

Virtual Food for Thought has a wonder all its own.

We may be separated by a nasty virus that has turned our lives upside down, but Food for Thought never fails to prove that great conversation, even if it is virtual, connects us.

It ignites our curiosity, feeds our minds, and warms us in the fellowship of shared ideas. It makes us feel part of something larger than just ourselves and shows us nothing, not even a pandemic, can take away the joy of our shared humanity.

Join us for the 2021 Virtual Food for Thought. Let’s get together and talk.