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What's It Going to Take for Americans to Stop Eating Chemical-Laden Industrial Food?

The simple act of sitting down together to eat real food on a regular basis can jumpstart the kind of lively discussions that get people engaged on the issues of the day.

Laurie David is a force of nature when it comes to lobbying on behalf of Mother Nature. An author, film producer and environmental advocate, she's best known as the producer who convinced Al Gore that his climate-change slide show could reach a lot more folks if he made it into a movie.

David's still concerned about melting glaciers. But her current campaign tackles another kind of erosion; the loss of community, civility and informed debate in our culture. Her latest book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time, makes the case that the simple act of sitting down together to eat real food on a regular basis can jumpstart the kind of lively, enlightening discussions that get our friends and family engaged on the issues of the day. And isn't that the first step to pulling our civic discourse out of its muddied ditch?

She addressed this subject at the Omega Institute's Design By Nature conference in Rhinebeck, New York recently, and kindly agreed to answer a few questions while she was in my neck of the woods. So, with the historic Hudson River Valley--widely regarded as the  birthplace of the modern environmental movement--as our backdrop, I sat down with David for a chat about where our country's at.

Kerry Trueman: How does this new mission to revive dinner table discussions mesh with your environmental advocacy? Is conversation the gateway drug to conservation?

Laurie David: There are all kinds of environments. But the very first one we learn anything at is our family environment. I have teenage daughters, and I see from my own personal experience, how grateful I am that I insisted on this ritual of family dinner. It's not just about eating, it's about all the things that happen at the table that we're not even conscious of.

Everything that you worry about as a parent is improved by sitting down to regular meals. This is how we raise civil children, this is how we pass on our values. If we let go of this, we'll be letting go of the very basic things that teach us how to become part of the community, and how to care about the world.

Kids are spending something like seven and a half hours a day looking at some form of screen, and that doesn't include texting time! I call it digital overload. They're not outside playing, they're not spending time with their family. We're not even watching TV together anymore, everyone's on their own separate computer.

That's why it's critically important to hold onto the one ritual that the day gives you, so that everyone can stop leading separate lives and come together. I hope that my book will help make it easy for them. There are some amazing recipes, but also great conversation starters. For some people, it's just as difficult to figure out what to talk about at dinner as it is what to make for dinner.

We have to alleviate the pressure on ourselves that dinner has to be this fancy affair, three courses and a homemade apple pie. If you're having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole grain bread, that's good enough. The key to the whole thing is sitting down and connecting.

KT: I'd like to borrow a question that Prince Charles asked in a speech at the Washington Post's Future of Food conferenceearlier this year: "Why it is that an industrialized system, deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatments, is promoted as viable, while a much less damaging one is rubbished and condemned as unfit for purpose?"

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