BELONGING

How Iman Benet Lewis, LA Neighbor and Chef, Creates Community

By

Becca Siegel

– VOL. 17

Please note: This article contains references to suicide and self-harm, which may be triggering to some readers

By the end of the night at a Dig In dinner hosted by Chef Imán Benét Lewis in DTLA this summer, nearly all the Venn neighbors sitting around the table had connected. This meal wasn’t just any dinner—with a design concept rooted in the idea of exploring “home,” this local event has jump-started a supper series that will bring out the theme of “The Dinner Party as an Act of Revolution.”

Chef Imán is a self-described culinary artist, writer, and human rights activist. Originally from Oakland, CA where the “revolutionary spirit” was born as Imán likes to say,  this multi-talented creator and organizer embodies a deep love for the healing powers in food, and sharing meals with other people. 

Image of Iman Benet Lewis LA

Iman, a neighbor living in Venn’s DTLA community, finds purpose in the healing powers of food and sharing meals with other people. 

Chef Imán is a self-described culinary artist, writer, and human rights activist. Originally from Oakland, CA where the “revolutionary spirit” was born as Imán likes to say,  this multi-talented creator and organizer embodies a deep love for the healing powers in food, and sharing meals with other people. 

Prior to 2020, Imán was working as an events coordinator. In 2020, there was a full stop to everything she was building in a career. She was faced with questions: what if her career, and the identity it comes along with, aren’t options anymore? What if life ends tomorrow? Is this something to pursue?

She decided she wanted her life to be about what she loves, and what she loves is food. She loves feeding people, nourishing them with food, her writing and her story. 

Seizing the opportunity to live, and love, fully

Image of Iman Benet Lewis LA

It feels revolutionary to be gathered in the name of love and healing,” says Iman of coming together around a table to share a meal. 

Imán’s passion for food is rooted in her own personal history. When she was 16, she was battling severe depression and anxiety. A year later she hit a low and tried to commit suicide. She remembers waking up that that morning and recognizing that she had an opportunity: to continue down the spiral, or make her life “worth it.” And in fact, that opportunity could be a gift for those around her, too. She wanted the story of her life to be that she faced hardship, and instead, decided to make it worth it to live fully and love fully. 

She went on a journey from that point to “change everything.” The first thing she decided to change was what she ate. She recognized that the relationship between what she was eating was how she was feeling. The more foods she ate that were “inherently alive,” the more alive she wanted to be. 

Imán became a “fully different human being,” and went on a plant-based journey. In 2021, she released a cookbook, called Alive Again: the Gift of Eating Well, with the story of how she healed through food. 

Sharing her gift and, her cooking, with the community

In partnership with Venn, Imán decided that the first dinner event in the new series should explore the concept of home, and the importance in creating a sense of home. 

Image of Iman Benet Lewis LA

For her next dinner party, Imán plans to focus on “home, food, art, and “the things that make us come alive.” 

“For me, home is bringing friends around a table and sharing meals with them, knowing my neighbors, and sharing in that spirit,” Imán says. “We wanted to bring that to life through Venn’s Dig In Dinner.  So the conversation prompted the idea of the dinner party as a “revolution.” Once people were gathered, passing plates and talking about what home meant to us, this was what community meant: sharing felt revolutionary in a time of chaos and fear. It feels revolutionary to be gathered in the name of love and healing.” 

Rediscovering the sacredness of home

As Imán hosted the dinner in her home, she wanted to really focus on the idea of home: “We invited my neighbors! One of them is from France, and the other is from the Midwest. They said that living in LA is “transactional,” and this is the first community we’ve all been able to build together. It reminded everyone of being back home, being in community, going down the street to borrow sugar from your neighbor. There is a sacredness to that.” 

For the focus of her next community dinner, Imán is considering exploring the things that are core to human beings: home, food, art, and “the things that make us come alive.” 

“It’s organic,” she says, “Doing what feels right in the moment, exploring food as art, running with themes that are integral to being alive.” 

“Once we can provide spaces for others to be well, that’s when we’ll be most effective for the causes we really care about,” Imán explains. “That’s the first step toward making meaningful change in the world.”

Learn more about Imán at her Instagram, website and TikTok