One day last year, Pedro Ramos ate seven meals in a matter of hours.
It didn't matter what was served, the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation recalled Thursday. What mattered were the conversations with strangers taking place throughout the city at more than 300 locations, where people discussed issues that matter most to them.
Now he's looking forward to chowing down once again with Philadelphians of various ages, cultures, and neighborhoods.
On Thursday, he helped the Philadelphia Foundation and the Knight Foundation, two of the event's presenting sponsors, host a kickoff event at Reading Terminal Market to talk about last year's success and introduce the 2018 program, which begins Nov. 8.
The Inquirer is also a presenting sponsor. Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com, is owned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which operates under the auspices of the Philadelphia Foundation.
On the Table Philly is a citywide event hosted by Philadelphians on the same day in various spaces — from private homes to office buildings — that allows strangers to have dialogue for 90 minutes over breakfast, lunch, or dinner about topics that matter most to their communities and build bridges across societal barriers. The Knight Foundation sponsors On the Table events in 10 other cities. The first was in Chicago, which Ramos said served as a model for Philadelphia's program.
"We're living in a time now where everywhere you look, every headline, whether it's in print or radio or television, suggests we have simply lost the ability to talk to one another," said Anuj Gupta, manager of the market.
Hosts from last year's On the Table Philly event said Thursday that sharing a meal with a table of strangers solves that problem.
"That whole theory that when you get in front of people … it's a lot easier to understand, and you can have more empathy for [people's] positions," said Jennifer Lynn Robinson, a 2017 host and president of women's advocacy group FemCity Philadelphia. "It's different when you're breaking bread with people at a table."
Some hosts already have chosen topics to chew over during their On the Table discussions. The Rev. Rubén Ortiz, director of national programs for Esperanza in the Hunting Park section of the city, said he will host a conversation about intergenerational faith. Robinson wants to discuss how the #MeToo movement affects the networking relationships between men and women. Mika'il Abdul-Karim, a personal trainer at Diverse Body Sculpturing in East Mount Airy, will host three sessions about nutrition, health, and men's egos.
Ramos said more than 2,000 Philadelphians attended last year's events, two-thirds of which were outside Center City. He said he's confident this year's On the Table event will draw more than 3,000 participants.
As a bonus, this year's event will offer mini-grants to attendees who are "on the verge of being able to do something from their conversation," Ramos said. The grants will be for a few hundred dollars, and details will be released closer to the event.