In episode five of the popular Israeli sitcom, Arab Labor, Amjad and his family are invited for Passover to the home of a reform family whose son goes to kindergarten with Amjad’s daughter. Amjad is enthusiastic about the Seder ceremony and decides to adopt the concept of the Haggadah into Eid al-Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice). In this way Amjad attempts to balance his life as an Israeli Arab by using some food, a bit of ceremony, and a lot of comedy!
Eating together is a central theme in many religions, going back to ancient Greece. The basic diet in Greece consisted mostly of grains. Meat was only eaten collectively after sacrifices to the gods, which anyone who can get through the first book of the Iliad without drooling will tell you.
It is hard not to bond with people when you eat together. Sometimes the act of eating together can be a tool of influence: business lunches, awards dinners, naked brunches, etc. Even a breakfast might be an opportunity to bond, as Thomas Macauly once said: “Dinner parties are mere formalities; but you invite a man to breakfast because you want to see him.” But can take-away meals be a way to disseminate culture and spread knowledge?
A new take-out restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries that the United States is in conflict with has open in Pittsburgh, PA. It is called Conflict Kitchen. This eatery is similar in concept to Michael Rakowitz’s 2004 project called Enemy Kitchen. The purpose of Enemy Kitchen was to use food to “open up a new route through which Iraq can be discussed. In this case, through that most familiar of cultural staples: nourishment.”
Enemy Kitchen, an ongoing project where Rakowitz collaborates with his Iraqi-Jewish mother. Compiling Baghdadi recipes, teaching the dishes to different public audiences. The project functioned as a social sculpture: while cooking and eating, the students engaged each other on the topic of the war and drew parallels with their own lives, at times making comparisons with bullies in relation to how they perceive the conflict.
Conflict Kitchen is a more commoditized version of Rakowitz’s project, using Iranian cuisine as a vehicle to market “rogue” state culture. Conflict Kitchen will have rotating menus, the next being Afganistan and then North Korea. In an interview with We Make Money Not Art, the creators of the project said that most Pittsburghers don’t know what the restaurant is all about, despite its having made international headlines. Besides creating a more commercially marketable Iran, the food counter brings people from all walks of life together to discuss everything from politics to religion while they wait for their food to be prepared. The creators use this opportunity to chat with the customers and “the conversation naturally goes to Iranian culture–perceptions and misperceptions–and often back to the customer’s own cultural heritage.”
I like the idea of promoting cultural awareness through cuisine, I guess it is the next best thing to having a study abroad experience. Maybe now people can go out, eat and get informed first hand instead of being force fed fear-mongering news by the American media. The main US propaganda machine, Disney, has a long history of using food to influence public opinion. 0ne of their most successful brain-washing campaigns, known as The Magic Kingdom, convinced millions of children and their families that all Mexicans shoot Churros from their fingertips on command, that all Germans walk around in lederhosen serving bratwurst all the live-long day, and that all Chinese children wear rice-picking hats and ride around on one-speed bikes and selling chop-sticks. What sort of chance does Conflict Kitchen stand against such Pavlovian methods of coercian? None whatsvever, but at least you get to eat somewhere that is officially more famous than the Carnegie Deli.