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The Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity

This lovely cookbook can be bought through amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local booksellers.

This beautiful cookbook is called Share. It was produced by Women for Women, an international humanitarian group dedicated to helping women rebuild their lives after war.

The recipes inside come from women in war-torn countries, but also from humanitarians–Emma Thompson, Nelson Mandela, and others–and from famous chefs, such as Alice Waters.  The photographs inside are stunning and the stories inspiring.

Most of the dishes appear easy to make and use fresh ingredients. Some you can imagine as the basis for a family celebration; others are as quietly simple and spontaneous as a prayer from the heart.

Jim made the Chicken with Vino Cotto suggested by Maggie Beer.  He said it was easy to make and I can attest that it was very good to eat!   Paging through the book, I thought it had suggestions for all kinds and aspects of meals, but I was happy to see it did not include a lot of timeworn stuff (except bringing back Baked Alaska via Ben & Jerry, which seems wholly appropriate!) or a bunch of overly trendy ideas.  Just interesting food that looks like it would be fun to make, serve, and eat.

I am so in love with the idea that we can funnel support to the most disadvantaged women of the world by creating products and services with room for profit to be deployed philanthropically.  There are increasing numbers of examples to show us how this can be done–the Pampers/UNICEF campaign against maternal/neonatal tetanus is one–but this cookbook is, so far, one of my favorite ideas.

It just seems so appropriate to be working through a cookbook.  The most basic element of economic organization is the assembly and distribution of food.  Hunter-gatherer societies founded the first element of the gender hierarchy by assigning women to gather and men to hunt.  Though the world has historically seen the hunt as more important, in fact the gathering provides 80% or more of what keeps such societies alive.

Societies are initially built on the principle that says the most basic economic unit (the one that will allow you to assemble a balanced diet) must come from a partnership between a man and a woman.  So, the economics of food sharing also form the basis for the institution of marriage, as well as for insistence on heterosexual relations. Both of these are mixed blessings, obviously. The rules for sharing food within a clan are the means and marks for all sorts of hierarchy, whether based on age or gender or whatever.  The most powerful people get the most and best to eat, but in such societies everyone does, at least, eat. Alliances are formed with other clans via food-sharing arrangements.  From there, you can trace the development of societies through agriculture to industrialization by the way they organize the getting and giving of food.

All around, sharing food is what ensures survival. The notion that the basic principle behind economics is self-interest conflicts with the facts in a way that is really a bit bizarre.  The basic principle is to share.

In all known human societies, women are associated with the warmth and nurture that comes with responsibility for providing food.  Even in our own times, a woman is usually the person in any given family who is in charge of household provisioning.  So, “women’s work” nearly always includes gathering and cooking. And, as the forward by Meryl Streep in this book remarks, giving food is more than providing physical sustenance.  Through the single mechanism of feeding their families, women create beauty, reward good behavior, mark rites of passage, teach traditions, enforce taboos, and evoke the spiritual.  There are few economic exchanges as powerful, rich, complex, and beautiful as the sharing of meals.

So the subtitle for this book, “The Cookbook that Celebrates Our Common Humanity” seems apt to me.  The economic principle that all human groups have in common is that you share your food.  And, everywhere, you must be at peace with those who eat with you.  Which seems like the right direction of travel for an organization helping women working to create peace after war.


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