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Methods of Simple Efficiency


Durkheim used what he called “primitive” individual’s and their beliefs to understand the greater complexities of religious life. While I am not Durkheimian, I do admire the idea of tracing things that are complicated back to their most simple roots.

While on vacation in early August – I went on a five mile hike to a small village in southern France – Breau. A barely-village built on top of a mountain, Breau has weekly outdoor town lunches throughout the summer. I wasn’t sure what I anticipated when I arrived but they certainly blew me away.

My friends and I were all in awe at how efficient the town was – they kept blanks of wood in a storage unit near by with little portable legs. The center of town (about as large as a standard New York apartment)  is cleared out while the tables are set up. If you are with a big group, it’s best you send your most eager and strongest members to obtain a coveted plank.

Farmers, tourists, neighboring villagers, and foodies alike gather. Plates, napkins forks, spoons and bread are passed out by volunteers. While you save a seat, others are sent off to the farmers’ stands that make a perimeter around the tables.

Smoked trout, chorizo, lamb cutlets slow-cooked eggplant with tomato sauce, bottles of rosé, salads with potatoes and carrots and, each item always coming in under 5 euros and each item made or grown by a local. I couldn’t help but compare this event to the San Francisco food fairs that happen all over town (I went to once a few years back that was near the Mission). We love good food in San Francisco but we get aggressive, cutting in lines, complaining and hogging. The locations are too small and honestly – so are the food portions!

The brilliance of the Breau luncheon is that everyone is welcome but also everyone is expected to help an equal amount. The best part is that there’s more than enough food and everyone is happy to be there.

It reminded me that by beginning with organization from the start, beginning with a clear goal in mind and knowing that everyone is aware of their own responsibilities, the outcome is a much more enjoyable. Then again – it never hurts one’s optimism to be eating delicious food in the South of France.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Red Ree #

    I think cooperative events like this work better at a smaller scale where people are less anonymous. When you scale something like that up from a word-of-mouth family event to a city-wide extravaganza, it loses that intimate charm. What you call efficiency I would call internalization of core values – i.e., everyone knows they’re expected to pitch in, and those who don’t, figure it out pretty quickly. The caliber of the participants has a lot to do with the experience.

    August 31, 2011

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