Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Peface

The loss of civility that plagues modern America is alarming. The Internet and talk radio has created a culture of tuning into what we already believe (or think we believe) and not listening to others with different opinions. This selective listening threatens the roots of our democratic republic. If we don’t listen to others, how will we get new ideas about solving new problems? Humans are remarkably adept at creating new technologies and cooperating to accomplish things that are mutually beneficial. Cooperation is essential to solve our collective problems.

Global warming, better called the less-cozy sounding “climate disruption,” is probably the largest collective action problem humanity has ever faced.
Collective action problems are those where the cumulative set of actions by individuals behaving in self interested ways cause the overall system to fail. Each of our decisions about what to eat, how to travel to work, where to vacation, what sized house we live in, together may be rational as an individual decision, but collectively have created a huge problem—human caused climate change--that requires a collective solution. Why? Because no matter what your skin color, or the ‘color’ of your state, or your political affiliations, each and every one of us will pay the costs of human-caused global warming.

I’d like to suggest a small step towards solving our collective problems: hosting fun and thoughtful dinner parties with those we know and with those who we don’t know that well.
Why? Because communities are made up of people with different beliefs and different backgrounds and they’ll work better when people get to know each other. Why? Because many of us live isolated existences surrounded by strangers. The loss of the neighborhood and the loss of discourse are intertwined. As Robert Putnam writes in Bowling Alone, the rise of suburbia has isolated many of us. We no longer have time to talk with our neighbors or listen to others in our communities. Jane Jacobs, writing in her 1961 masterpiece—The Death and Life of Great American Cities—noted that vibrant and healthy neighborhoods are those with mixed business and a mix of people and it is this mix that helps create safety and vibrancy. Cocooning around our entertainment centers has isolated us and not made us particularly happy. How to address this isolation?

We all have to eat, why not eat together?
I believe that eating together can help us solve our collective problems. How? By talking. And listening. And sharing. And laughing. You know, the stuff of dinner parties.

I will suggest a number of conversation topics to get readers started.
And, I’m going to share some of the recipes that I cook when my wife, Janice, and I have people over. Most of these are relatively easy (I’m not a professional chef). Most of these are relatively ‘green’. I’m going to suggest how and why readers should think about what to eat and serve. I’m also going to share with readers my struggle over food decisions--I don’t exclusively eat organic food; I’m not exclusively vegetarian—but if we don’t know what our goals are, we’ll never get there. And we might find that we can get there together and have fun in the process.

I shall focus on ‘green issues’ because this is a greenish cookbook designed to get us to think about what we’re eating and how we’re acting.
I believe that by sharing meals with others, we can politely discuss issues that are often called ‘political’. For instance, are fisheries sustainable and should we eat fish? Or more generally, is it ethical to kill other animals for food? Should we eat meat and if so, what types?

I’m going to encourage us to talk about some issues that we have to put on the table—is it ethical to travel by airplanes?
Is it ethical to buy that newest gadget and throw away the old ones? Or even the more tricky ones – is it ethical to have more than two children in a world already badly overpopulated.

Nobody’s perfect.
I fly and sometimes, but not always, I buy carbon-offset credits. Our house is cluttered with plastic toys—most of them junky and from China. However, knowing what a target should be allows us to reach it if we wish to.

The inspiration of this book emerged from many meals—all home cooked—with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
We cooked, ate, argued, drank, and ate more. We had a good time. And we learned. You can too and have fun doing so.

I think hosting dinner parties is a recipe to solve our problems.
Cook for others and eat with them. Break bread and break the ice. Work in your community to solve local problems and you may find that we are then closer to solving some important global problems.

Utopian? Sure. Let’s get cooking! Let’s get eating! Let’s have fun! Let’s have a party!

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