can you eat your way to making the world a better place?


Do you eat out at restaurants a couple of times a month? If you do, how much do you usually spend per person, including tax and tip?

That depends, of course, on where you eat and where you live. Let’s narrow it down a bit. I’m not talking about a rockin’ 24-course blow out at Alinea, but I’m also excluding the quick $1 taco at the taco truck (although undeniably delicious). I’m thinking more along the lines of a dinner at one of your favorite neighborhood restaurants… for us, a good example would be La Medusa in the Columbia City neighborhood. Here’s what I might order:

  • tomato soup – aqua pazzo, capers, anchovy, farm egg bruschetta ($7)
  • perciatelli con le sarde, caramelized fennel & onions, sardines, saffron, pine nuts, olives, raisins ($17)
  • cannoli ($6)
  • ’06 Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo – Quattro Mani ($8.50)

Total cost: $38.50. After tax and tip, you’re looking at roughly $50.

So what if, instead of going out to a restaurant, you could take that $50, donate it all to a worthy nonprofit org, take a tax deduction on that contribution, and still enjoy a (hopefully) comparable meal with some friends? Would you be down for that?

Here’s my idea. I love to cook and I have friends who love to eat (a good match). What if I host a dinner with food that comes relatively close to the kind of menu I just described? I could probably manage to serve up to eight people in our home. We would do a three course menu, with cocktails and wine, and create an environment where guests would be served and enjoy themselves as if they were dining out.


With eight people, that would be $400 raised for charity right there… using money that would have been spent anyway

What about the price of creating the meal? I’m convinced that if you plan well and shop carefully, you can make a very good meal for eight people for roughly $50-60 for the food and $40 to $50 for cocktails and wine. If it costs me $100 to make this dinner, then the impact of that $100 gets multiplied four-fold. Not a bad multiplier!

I shared this idea with a few friends, who were all supportive. But a couple of them asked if my cost estimates for the meal were realistic. Could I really serve three courses and have cocktails and wine for just $12.50 per person?

There was only one way to find out…


~ by jak on November 5, 2008.

10 Responses to “can you eat your way to making the world a better place?”

  1. cool idea. which i was close enough to participate!

  2. actually Jay, even though you guys are in California, you CAN participate. one of the reasons I’m creating this blog is so that people can see what we’re trying to do–and take their own stab at throwing one of these dinners themselves. i know you guys love to throw dinner parties… what do you think?

  3. though as you know, i’m definitely not the chef in the family. not sure if emily had a chance to read your new blog yet, but i’m sure she’d be all for it!

  4. what a coincidence. R was just suggesting on Monday that he’d like to partition our loft so we could host dinner parties that we could charge for…just a step up from the small dinners we’ve cooked for friends already. charity would be the perfect beneficiary – do you think we could DOUBLE the charity impact by claiming our company match for the donation? the only thing is, we doubt we have friends who would pay that much, especially as non-drinkers (but maybe we can scale back the cost and the charge if we exchange wine pairings for non-alcoholic concoctions).

  5. a-

    we used the company match for our first meal–boosting the contribution impact from $400 to $800. but everyone who went was from work, so they were able to submit their own individual match requests. just make sure you aren’t pooling funds and requesting the match yourself–that’s against the policy (for our “boutique” employer). perhaps other companies may let people do that…

    i definitely hear you on the cost of the meal. $50 per person, even if it is a good value, is a lot if you’re not used to dining like that. but i was telling a friend that you could also thow a much lower key meal and still get a good multiplier on the amount raised for charity. i think the ratio of cost-to-funds raised can generally hit around 1:3 or 1:4 (without company matching)

    i hope you do decide to try it out. let me know if you do, and i can put up your menu, photos, and details of the charity that benefits from the meal… that’s actually my goal for this blog– to do some of these things ourselves, and promote the efforts of others who do the same.

  6. This is a great idea… what a wonderful way of helping out. Can’t wait to hear more about how it goes!

    My husband and I have been thinking about doing something similar to help out with the efforts in Darfur. We had been thinking about a hosted dinner in a restaurant, but perhaps hosting at home would be even better.

  7. L-
    Thanks for checking this out. I’m a big fan of your blog. Please keep us in the loop if you do host a dinner for Darfur. Better yet, let me know if you ever want to collaborate…

  8. If you ate less meat, given the large amount of grain, it takes to make a lb of beef.

  9. What a great idea! My husband and I already give about 1/4 of our income to various non-profits and people in need we know, so we have an eating out budget of $20 per month. It’s up to us to go somewhere inexpensive once a month, or save it up and go somewhere pricier. But it’s really difficult for me to consider paying some one else crazy prices to cook something I’m sure I could myself.

    I think it’s really great that people are looking for ways to cut back on non-necessities in order to help those in need.

  10. Wow, this is a really wonderful idea! We really need more initiatives like these.

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