Visuals as Anything

It started for fun in front of a curry plate, a white page, a few creative minds chatting and the ultimate goal to help the community out. A couple of months and some curries later, we can finally see the results hanging on the walls of Lentil as Anything restaurants: 16 colorful posters featuring happy faces and powerful messages that will make you laugh.

Jan H. Stoerkel arrived in Australia nearly a year ago in search of a meaningful change in his life. To his corporate regular job in Berlin he preferred an exciting adventure and decided to leave for the unknown, working as a freelance while exploring this big wild country. He opened a blog named Visual Walkabout where he could keep track of his life journey, packed his equipment and he was ready to travel Down Under.

The idea of Essentials of Lentils was born in Sydney, where he fell in love with Lentil as Anything Newtown. Attracted by the delicious vegan food, the good vibes and the feeling of inclusion that he immediately had as he stepped in, he became an habitual customer. He enjoyed the time there, made good friends and eventually started to participate as waiting staff. And it’s when he met Nicole Khoury, Volunteer & Community Coordinator in Sydney, that the magic happened. Inspired by her words, his creative mind started to think about a different way of helping.

“I noticed that people do not always know everything that goes on in the community space”, says Nicole. “For many months I had this idea floating in my mind to visually communicate the core components of Lentils”. Then she met Jan and they started brainstorming. Why don’t we play with photos and texts to show that every single volunteer is a hero? How can we communicate the complexity of Lentils’ world? How to share our values, be appealing and encourage everyone to join? How can we improve our image?

As we know, keeping alive a sharing community is not easy. Someone may think that not having a price on the menu means you can eat for free. Others might not understand why food is vegetarian, tables are full of smiling strangers with different background and social status. They may underestimate the value of this not-for-profit that proudly stands on a strong network of volunteers and kind donations of time or money. Or, not knowing that for many of our volunteers it also represents a stepping stone into the workforce and a tool for community development, some people could even complain because of the relaxed atmosphere. Talking to customers, friends and other staff members, Jan and Nicole thought that maybe this can be fixed with more – and different – information.

“Even if you know Lentils already, you may miss something”, says Jan with passion, “with these visuals I wanted to show all the facets of this beautiful community: the quality and presentation of the food, the interesting workshops, the effort that every superhero here is giving any single day need a professional look that will meet a higher standard and will give a boost to Lentils’ image”. And he did. Seven days of photo shooting in the workshop space, over 1300 shots, 53 volunteers involved, more than 20 meals involved, countless hours of post production, lots of chai, lots of love.

Not only. As a thank you gift from Jan and special souvenir, all the models and helpers that participated had the opportunity to get some portrait photos. The make up artists were enthusiast students thrilled by the chance to get some experience. Some of the photo equipment was bought from the recycling shop Reverse Garbage and are now part of the tools available in the workshop space in Lentils Newtown. Even part of the clothes used for a shoot were gently offered by the Red Cross shop down the corner. When you put together people with a positive can do attitude, synergies happen. Like with Adam, a talented autistic guy that happened to be around at the right time and unexpectedly got a photoshoot for his t-shirt e-commerce Adam’s Apples. While most of the models were selected to show the diversity of the community, many of them just popped in and joined the shooting for fun.

“I liked that the project was a collective effort”, Nicole comments. “Volunteers were involved in the pre-production planning as well as production itself. All the volunteers were cast over a week each attended a day of shooting without knowing much about the project. This made it a lovely surprise and created a great energy.” And when they saw the finished result, they were elated and grateful, although a bit embarrassed to see their face on such a high-end presentation.

As Ken Baird, Operations and Communications Manager of Lentil as Anything Thornbury says, he and his team were delighted when Jan reached out to show them Essentials of Lentils. “The time, energy, commitment and love put in to the project is commendable and sums up the Lentil experience today. Full of insights into volunteering, food, environment and community, its’ a must see for those wanting to understand more about Lentil as Anything. We are thrilled to showcase it at our Birthday Party on Oct 14th.”

In fact, the posters will be exposed in Melbourne Thornbury during the second birthday party next Saturday Oct 14th and in Sydney Newtown after its renovation this month. Maybe someone will help finance a broader distribution of posters and postcards, maybe we will be able to see the visuals arounds our cities and collect postcards from bars and shops. Everything is possible, stay tuned.

Article published on Lentils as Anything website

Overcoming mess with commuication


Have you ever felt like swimming in a bubble of confusion and soon later felt happily released right after a genuine talk with a friend? In this post I’m going to focus on the reason why this happens.

You may think that it’s a matter of friendship and it is due to the emotional bond that links you to that person. Not every friend is the same and the relief is proportional to the quality of the friendship. Well, not really.

It can happen with a relative, a child, a colleague and even the doomed person sitting next to us. Yes, sometimes we are so concentrated on a problem that we use a stranger to extern our thoughts and feel better. Literature teaches us that also writing a diary or having a pen friend is an extraordinary tool to manage anxiety and make sense of life.

As I wrote in the last article, storytelling is the way human brain gives sense to its inner mess and puts every circumstance in the right shelf. How does it work?

To explain this, it’s helpful recalling once again Professor of Sociology Paolo Jedlowski. In his book, he defines narration as “sharing stories”. Stories are representations of sequences of events or actions and, by definition, they require a conversation. By telling a story, I package my thoughts about a certain situation, I give them a meaning and an interpretation and eventually I share the package to another person through simple communication.

Interestingly, Jedlowski says that sequence of events are normally messy or opaque. You don’t know exactly how to interpretate the reality around you until you go through the process of making a story out of it and tell it.

The next time you feel messy thoughts, try the storytelling approach and see for yourself.

Storytelling for better life


Today I want to talk to you about one of the topics that passionate me the most, one of the activities that I’ll never be bored of, storytelling. Although this word is having a large success in recent times – in Italy, for instance, it is now associated to cool marketing strategies – this process has been part of human life for a very long time. Building narratives is a natural way that our brain has to make sense of what happens around us and, at the same time, socialize.

“Narrative is like life, it exists in itself, it’s international, transhistorical and transcultural” Roland Barthes

We use stories to communicate, express our feelings, release our tensions, share our experiences,  affirm our ideas, give support, educate, entertain, discuss and, ultimately, to define who we are. From the ancient Greek tragedies to the web series, from the nineteenth-century romance to contemporary poetry, narratives are an essential tool to build our identities. Here’s a note that I found in one of the sociology books I have in my personal library, “Common stories” by Professor Paolo Jedlowski:

– identity is the result of  a self-development work that the individual acts on himself using the symbolic resources that he founds in his social context –

To understand what we are, we need to tell a story. Sometimes the personal novels that we create in our minds and that we tell to explain our lives help us to grow up and find a way to redefine our identity. The bed-time stories that we listen to in our childhood and the books we read every day are strategic in the process of building and re-building a personality through time.

Some sociologists like Jedlowski say that the contemporary community is now losing our oral tradition and slowly losing our ability to tell good stories. I would rather say that things are changing, we now use many different mediums, but we still tell stories. The problem is that we have so many stimulus that often we can make a story of what we are not very interested in, and we desperately need to prioritize our stories, make order before heading to the communication step.

Like it or not, we are all minstrels, wandering on the edge of our thoughts and making show of ourselves to create our comfortable place in the world, either if we write or not. With social networks, we all have a ready-to-use opportunity to share something about us. Even a simple “like” expresses something personal. Think about it. What is the story you are telling now?