Let’s Eat

Are we in an age when reactive, 140-character bursts—and quick, often solo meals—have replaced familial or social dinners where thoughtful conversations that undergird a viable democracy have a seat?

Fed up with the tenor of our country’s political shouting match? You might find something useful, maybe even uplifting, in Janet Flammang’s Table Talk: Building Democracy One Meal at a Time (University of Illinois Press). A professor emerita of political science, Flammang puts forward this basic idea—informed by scholarly studies and wide-ranging anecdotes: “We can develop our civil selves by sharing food and ideas at tables where there are ground rules about listening, sharing, and respect.”

But there’s the rub, right? Flammang’s anecdotes display a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of kitchen, diplomatic, and even hostile tables. She writes about the difference between authoritative and authoritarian dynamics at a family dinner table, for example. “Conversations take work,” she acknowledges, but “are well worth the effort because they are the building blocks of democracy, fashioned one meal at a time.” So let’s eat. And converse!

post-image Illustration by Richard Mia
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