Put the kitchen stove on pause and, instead, take up the cause. Houston’s Dining Out For Life brings yet another year of fundraising to an ever-hot cuisine scene, complete with meals that will benefit AIDS Foundation Houston, Inc. The Bayou City has always been known for both its fabulous restaurants as well as its philanthropic spirit, and this year is no different. Every fork, spoon and knife lifted at participating restaurants on Thursday will contribute a portion of sales to providing treatment, eradicating stigma and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
"This event combines the culinary arts, mixology and philanthropy - how could it not be perfection?," said co-chair George Lancaster. "We hope people not only come out and dine but also remember there is still a need to raise funds and awareness."
Along with Lancaster, co-chairs Jessica Rossman and Travis Torrence will welcome diners to at least 40 and counting eateries across the city taking part in this delicious fête.
On a larger scale, Houston is just one hub for this nationally-coordinated fundraiser, which culminates with more than 50 sister participants that have delivered promising results in years past. In 2018, more than 50 regional HIV service organizations partnered with 3,000 participating restaurants, 3,000 volunteers, and 300,000 diners to raise $4.1 million for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States and Canada.
The race to get to zero infections is an enviable one that every city should want to win, and once someone secures the secret to it, we all benefit from the knowledge. Until then, it’s up to us as citizens to carry the torch.
HIV/AIDS is a heavy burden to shoulder, but it is now a much more treatable disease than it was 20 years ago. We’ve moved from an HIV/AIDS diagnosis being a death knell to it being a manageable disease, and we’ve also made strides toward eliminating the stigma it creates.
We still have miles to go, but the advancement of PrEP (a pill that taken once daily helps reduce transmission rates by more than 90 percent) and the scientific proving of U=U (meaning, undetectable viral loads equals untransmittable viral loads) have lightened the impact of HIV/AIDS.
One person throwing his support behind this cause is Ted Allen, who has been repping the event for more than ten years. His background as a food expert and television celebrity has lent itself to the credence of this fundraiser and helped bring attention to how dining helps bring people together.
Mentioning his reason for participating, he says, "It's a unique, perfect fit for me. It touches on things I care about. It gets support for people."
He mentions that life in the culinary world is a tough path, especially with razor thin budgets and colossal chances of failure, but Allen mentions that restaurants are one of the main avenues for community gathering and experiences.
"Restaurants are always the first place we turn to for support, and they always step up. Generosity is built in. Running restaurants is not easy, and profit margins are low, and despite that, they are the most giving," he said.
For dining out, an activity most of us would have been doing anyway, Allen reminds us of another benefit. "All of the money raised in Houston is spent in Houston to help your own neighbors. It's an elegant model, and it gets a lot done," he said.
With that said, save your appetite for Thursday and then feel free to stretch both the wallet and the belt buckle a little bit knowing that by Dining Out For Life, we're strengthening an important cause in the most saliva-worthy way possible.
"This is the perfect opportunity to make a meaningful impact in this fight. We all have to eat, and if it's within your budget to go have a meal that helps people, why wouldn't you do it?," he said. "It's all about the overall experience of feeling really good about supporting local groups and supporting restaurants and having an excuse to have more champagne or dessert."
Cheers to that.
Dining Out For Life, sponsored by Subaru and Ponaman Healthcare Consulting, takes place Thursday at participating restaurants. For information, visit AIDSHelp.org. Prices vary per restaurant.