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Eric Maddox breaks bread – and barriers – one virtual dinner at a time

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So far, those gathering around virtual dinner tables have included residents of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; Kampala, Uganda; and Karachi, Pakistan. Social advocates, educators, filmmakers, students, and others have participated.

"It's important to have a diverse range of views around the table," Maddox says.

He seeks out participants in countries that have strained relations with the US. "We're probably not going to have a dinner with Switzerland anytime soon," he jokes.

Openness and mutual respect are essential to the success of the conversation.

"You have to be aware of how your own personal narrative can affect your conversation with one another," Maddox says.

Maddox's desire to help heal misunderstandings that lead to conflict between countries, spurred by his strong sense of justice and a belief in the power of food to build community, led him to create the Virtual Dinner Guest Project last spring.

Since then, he has been spending most of his waking hours trying to get the project off the ground, networking with everyone from State Department officials to overseas community-based organizations to US university professors to drum up support, contacts, funding, and venues.

The project has become such an integral part of Maddox's life that he keeps a laptop connected to Skype (he uses this Internet service, which offers voice and video connections, for his virtual dinners) by his bed, in case one of his foreign contacts forgets about the time difference.

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