Even though I was born too late to be a child of the ’60s, I went to college with hippies. The University of California at Davis, about 30 miles outside of Sacramento in the flat, farming part of the state, was hanging onto its hippie identity with a death grip when I was there in the late ’70s, a time when the rest of the country was doing The Hustle at discos. For years after I left Davis, I joked that boys with tie-dyed t-shirts were still playing Frisbee with their bandana-wearing dogs on the quad. My friend Chakka, who had been there with me, said, “That’s no joke. They’re still there.”
I loved the place. I loved the fertile, broad valley, the summers when hundred-degree temperatures were routine, the jug of Almaden that my housemates and I proudly kept in the refrigerator once one of us was old enough to buy alcohol. Everything in Davis was new to my southern-California eyes, and I went into a storm of ecstasy the first time I saw the plum trees all over town break into flower.
Better Food for a Better World, which will be released next spring from Slant Books, is in part a love song to that bucolic, marijuana-tinged California town. It seems important to say that right off, because perhaps the book doesn’t look completely like a love song. My proudly countercultural characters, who run an ice cream store where the napkins are printed with slogans like “Small is Beautiful” and “Harmony is Sustainability,” really think that they can change the world if they just can get enough people thinking the right thoughts. The problems come, as always, when people start arguing about which thoughts are right.
I’ve always been interested in issues of morality and ethics, but living in Davis taught me to look at those issues through the lens of community, and that was great. Few things lend themselves so lusciously to comedy as the sight of people insisting on their righteousness, especially if there’s Grateful Dead being played somewhere nearby. There was always Grateful Dead being played somewhere nearby. The book let me do my favorite thing: Pit people who believe in different things against each other and let them have at it.
Also, there’s a juggler. And a fat contortionist. Really.
Want more information? Go to the Slant Books website.