0225883The Pew Research Center recently released a study that showed results of something that I think we all have known anecdotally for a while: there is a significant and seemingly growing age gap between the two political poles in America. The study shows that the youngest generation, Millenials (18-33 years old in 2014), are increasingly more Democratic or liberal and the oldest generation, Silents (69-86 years old in 2014), are increasingly more Republican or conservative. Somewhat surprisingly, the study points out that this has not always been the case: two decades prior in 1994, the youngest generation leaned conservative and the oldest leaned liberal.

I say anecdotally above because anybody who’s witnessed family dinners at Thanksgiving or Christmas where their parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents debate their younger, more liberal siblings or cousins over whether CNN or Fox News is “real news” can affirm this all too well. Or we’ve read Edwin Lyngar’s post over at Salon last year about how he lost his father to Fox News–which, while the article might’ve come across as overtly bitter, the sentiment resonates all too well with many Millenials my age. David Brooks also touched somewhat on this gap for the Times dealing with the detrimental aspects of “Partyism”. Barring the actual political beliefs, the way in which one’s political beliefs are exhibited in our modern partisan political and ideological climate has become more and more troublesome. The party lines have been drawn in the sand, and we’ve declared emphatically who is “us” and who is “them”. “We’re digging our heels in deeper and we’re not budging an inch!” has become the battle cry of many on both sides. The ideological and, by extension, relational divide between my generation and older generations feels larger than ever.

While most of the pieces or statistics above get the diagnosis correct, they offer little hope for redemption.

Enter former Daily Show correspondent and CBS Sunday Morning reporter Mo Rocca’s humorous cooking show, My Grandmother’s Ravioli, which airs on the Cooking Channel on Wednesday nights. On the show, Rocca visits a new grandparent each week at their home to learn how to cook their favorite dishes and then eat the dishes with them and their family or friends. Rocca is not a very good cook, as he mentions in the opening credits, but he has fond memories of his grandmother’s ravioli and is seeking to learn how to cook from other grandparents.

As you can probably imagine, the interactions between a middle-aged comedian such as Rocca and grandparents in the kitchen is something that some network head should’ve cashed in on a long time ago. In most cases, Rocca simply has to show up, as the grandparents bring a whole bundle of eccentricity and off-color remarks to the table. Rocca tends to play off the fact that most of these people have reached the age where they aren’t too concerned what others might think—asking leading questions and egging them on when he senses a socially sensitive subject coming on. He brings some of his Daily Show-esque banter to the interactions as well.  He’ll toss out an off-color or absurd remark/question to see how his host will receive it and then revel in the awkward tension that exists between his remark and when his host responds. The social and cultural differences between the two are something that Rocca playfully jokes about, making light of differences that in other situations might seem slightly uncomfortable.

Rocca’s reporter side comes out as well, though. He knows all the right questions to ask—about their heritage, cooking techniques passed down, their grandchildren, etc.–and gets his teachers to begin talking about what they love and to keep talking. Rocca graciously plays on their terms and doesn’t bring much of himself to the conversation, rather focusing on the grandparents’ interests throughout the show. While some of the grandparents may seem baffled by Rocca and his cooking buffoonery at first (he likes to throw things around in the kitchen and tends to chop vegetables erratically), they all normally warm up to his personality by the end, opening up to him emotionally about learning how to cook from someone who loved them, how they’ve banded together with other widows over the loss of their husbands, or how their grandson’s love saved them from becoming “old and crotchety”. By talking about what they love, the political or ideological white elephants in the room tend to become irrelevant and the dividing generational differences slowly disappear.

My Grandmother’s Ravioli is not only an endearingly funny and entertaining half hour interaction between Mo Rocca and grandparents, but also a simple reminder of grace in practice when approaching any group that we would subconsciously or otherwise categorize in the “them” category: find what they love and do it with them.  Having a few drinks with a homecooked meal can’t hurt either.