“You can never be too kind, too gentle.” I cling to these words like a prayer. They were first spoken by St. Seraphim of Sarov, and they’ve never failed to humble me.
First let me dispel a common misconception. Kindness is not niceness; it is not being polite. Rather, it is a radical generosity of spirit that doesn’t condemn, but seeks instead to know and be known through compassionate consideration.
With that in mind, I’ve become increasingly aware that the way to transform the world is through kindness. Likewise, the way to transform the food system is through kindness as well. What do I mean by that? How do I practice radical kindness?
While the practice of kindness should permeate all facets of our lives, today I am sharing three examples of how I practice radical kindness while dining out.
Could I have chosen different examples? Yes.
I could have written entirely about raising kids, or being a wife, or growing and choosing food. You get the point.
I chose these three examples because of their value to me, and because I think that at least one of them will resonate with each of you.
1. Leave a radically big tip.
When I was a teenager and first learned about leaving tips, the paradigm my parents gave me was simple:
- 10% means the service was below average
- 15% means the service was average
- 20% means the service was above average
I stuck to this well into my adulthood. I am not sure of the precise moment my paradigm shifted, but now I balk at leaving tips that low.
Here’s how I think about it.
The difference between a 20% tip and a 40% tip when a couple is dining out is often less than $10.
What else do I routinely spend less than $10 on? How casually do I spend it?
Is it worth $10 to me to make someone’s entire day? To bring them a slice of joy? To let them know I truly appreciate them, and that my life is better because they chose to condescend to serving me when I stepped out of my home and into the restaurant or bar where they work?
The short answer is: YES. It is most definitely worth it.
I won’t miss the $10 (not really), and the waiter or waitress will be happier because of it.
Think it sounds hard? That $10 is a lot and will quickly add up with time into something you can’t possibly afford?
I know exactly how you feel.
When my husband first started leaving slightly larger tips, he dared to tack on an extra buck or two. Literally, it was just one or two extra dollars. That’s it.
And my first thought was to clutch that money back! We needed it. We had bills to pay. We had to buy gas to make sure we could get to work, and gas prices were shooting through the roof. The price on our raw milk just leaped from $5/gallon to $8/gallon.
You name it, and I had a good excuse for keeping that money.
These days, it’s not uncommon for me to leave a 100% tip.
Why do I say that?
To demonstrate that every journey of miles begins with the inches beneath your feet. Give yourself an inch. See what happens.
2. Buy a stranger’s meal when you pay for your own.
It’s a random act of kindness.
And that’s just what I write on the back of their bill:
I bought your lunch. This is a random act of kindness. Please pay it forward!
Do I know who these people are? No.
Do I know if they’re poor or could really use the financial break? No.
How do I choose whose check to pay? It’s random!
Sometimes I pick up the tab of the young parents with babies. Sometimes I buy lunch for the elderly retired couple that looks like they’re on a fixed income. Sometimes I buy meals for police officers or firefighters or EMTs or military personnel. Sometimes it’s just the people who happen to be lucky enough to have also sat down in our waiter’s section.
The point here is that who they are doesn’t matter. Whether or not they need your generosity doesn’t matter. Whether or not they deserve your generosity doesn’t matter.
The point is to be kind — to be radically kind in a way that our society views as unusual.
3. Only eat meat of known origin.
You’ll hear this bantered about in the Real Food community quite a bit. It’s the idea that when eating, we shouldn’t eat meat of unknown origin.
Meat of unknown origin likely comes from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), from animals raised or finished within the factory farming system.
Their husbandry is not kind, but a wound upon the landscape — an ugliness that I want no part of.
What does this mean when dining out?
Well, it means that if I want meat, I need to only eat it at a restaurant that fully discloses its sources. And by disclosure, I mean that I want to know the names of area ranches that are raising grass-fed beef or pastured poultry and providing it to the restaurant.
If I’m not at a restaurant that can practice that level of disclosure, then I need to eat like a vegetarian.
It’s not complicated. It’s not hard. It’s a simple choice to practice kindness.
What if you honestly can’t afford to practice these tips?
Then find other ways to be kind.
My goal in writing this is to challenge you.
Can you really, truly not afford to leave bigger tips? Or are you just like I was — in the habit of holding money tightly. If you can afford to dine out, chances are fairly good that you can also afford to be a more generous tipper.
You get the idea.
Step out of your comfort zone. Be radically kind. Watch it transform those around you.
But, perhaps most importantly, watch it transform you.