Happy Town Eating Day!

Norwich, Vermont, is trying to increase attendence at its daylong series of public meetings this Saturday by providing snacks and lunch: "We only ask that you sit with someone you don’t know well, talk about the town, and clean up after yourself." The event includes eight gatherings to hash out such topics as "What Can We Do About Main Street?" and "Is Anything in Norwich Worth Saving?" The day concludes with a talk on "the question that’s dogged each of us from the womb." No, it’s not "What is life?" or "What happens after death?" It’s "Who’s In Charge Here?"

Other towns have tried to increase civic participation by scheduling meetings at more convenient times or offering child care so that parents can attend, but Norwich may have come the closest to turning town meeting into the kind of conference that many of us regularly attend as part of our jobs. (Without the end-of-the-day gatherings in hotel bars, for better or worse.) Will Massachusetts towns follow Norwich’s lead? And will there be a competition among suburbs for who provides the best food at town meetings? I can imagine the real estate agent’s pitch: "Yes, the school system in Parkdale is the best in the state, but you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted the duck rillettes at an Elmhurst zoning board meeting!"

UPDATE: Gov. Deval Patrick might have a special appreciation for the power of breaking bread with fellow citizens.