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The Power of Breaking Bread

Desiree Cooper

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Desiree Cooper and Lynne Rossetto Kasper
(Jim Gates)
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The U.S.-Mexico border isn't the only place where a battle is being waged over who can come in and who must stay out. Today, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is meeting in Washington, D.C., to decide whether they'll seat delegates from Michigan and Florida. The party stripped the states of their of delegates after they broke party rules and moved up their primaries this year.

It's bound to get heated. Later tonight, the DNC is sponsoring a big wig fundraiser in Manhattan to stress the need for party unity. That's a lot of pressure hinging on one meal.

To help them out, we consulted with someone who knows all about food and its deeper meaning -- Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of
American Public Media's Splendid Table
. She talks about the power of breaking bread with your rivals, and how it can lead to deeper understanding and even amicable compromise:

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: Sitting across the table from somebody is often the only time you ever look another human being in the eyes for a long period of time -- and you have no choice about it. The other thing is that eating together is probably the second-most intimate act that can happen between human beings. You're taking the nourishment of the "other" into your body. If you think about this, that is a phenomenal occurence.

Desiree Cooper: That's the intimacy you were just talking about. I looked it up, and the word, "companion" is actually "with bread." It's like you're sharing bread with someone.

Yes. "Accompaniment" is "with bread." It is "what goes with bread," because bread, for the Western world, was always the focus of the meal. In China, for instance, the meal is one of the ways you establish relationships, and where you sit, the guest of honor will not be seated next to the host, the guest of honor will be seated facing the host. And then the food -- the guest of honor is indicated by which way the fish points. It's that kind of thing.

What difference does the table itself, the setting of a meal, make?

Huge. If you put people at a rectangular table, especially a wide, rectangular table, you can only talk to the person on your left and on your right. If it's a narrow, rectangular table, you can talk across the table. If it's a round table, but no bigger than about 52-55 inches, you can have a general conversation. That means the Obama crew and the Clinton crew seated opposite each other can converse. The ideal table would be a narrow oval, because in a narrow oval everybody can see everybody. There's a sigh-line everywhere, and if you really want to build communication, that's what you do.

So what would you put on the Unity Dinner menu?

I think a with the Unity Menu you would want to know the preferences of everybody at the table. You'd certainly want to know if there's allergies or medical problems, and you'd cook to that. The other thing is that you want to do something that is not so bland. You want some food that they're going to have to work at. So, you want to have something like chicken, but you want the bone in. A lot of people avoid that. They say it's embarrassing.

Right. Why would you want the bone in? Are you going to have people picking it up?

I don't care. That's what I'd love to see them do. My thought, in a situation like this, and it would really be tricky, is I'd do ribs, or I'd do something where they can pick something up with their fingers -- and have a little bowl with the water or whatever. Obviously, you don't want to make people feel uncomfortable. But you start eating with your fingers, and a lot of walls go down. I hope they're listening and they can still change the menu by tonight.

We'll send recipes. Lynne, thank you so much.

It's been a pleasure. Thank you.


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