Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh took a novel idea and ran with it. On a rotating basis, they serve the cuisine of countries with which the United States is in conflict. On Monday, the restaurant began serving Palestinian food — and the city’s Jewish community is having a fit.
The mission of Conflict Kitchen is clearly stated on their website:
Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.
The Director of Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Gregg Roman, objected, saying:
Palestine is not in conflict with the U.S. The restaurant is stirring up conflict for the sake of trying to be relevant.
The people of Gaza, who suffered over 2100 casualties during Israel’s latest American-funded attack, might take issue with that assessment. As might the thousands of wounded and injured protesters from the West Bank. Jon Rubin, co-founder of Conflict Kitchen, reinforced the United States’ role in the conflict by pointing out that the government has pledged $30 billion in military aid to Israel for the years 2009 – 2018.
The Jewish community also tried to make the case that the situation is one-sided, that only one view is being heard at the restaurant. Rubin dismissed that claim by pointing out that Mr. Roman participated in a public event at Conflict Kitchen and added his voice to the dialogue — as all members of the community are welcome to.
Although Mr. Rubin did not wade into the issues more extensively, it’s worth noting that a false Israeli narrative has dominated the world media for most of the 66 years the country has existed. It’s a narrative that dehumanizes Palestinians. The objections to Conflict Kitchen’s new rotation could be seen as one more effort to keep Americans from relating to Palestinians as people. An exploration of the Israeli narrative can be found here.
Tensions were initially sparked by the kickoff event for the new Palestinian menu — a talk that was co-hosted by the Honors College of the University of Pittsburgh. It featured a speaker from the West Bank, Nael Althweib, and the chair of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, professor Ken Boas. The headline that blossomed on the Jewish Chronicle’s website after the event read, “University Honors College co-sponsors one-sided talk on Middle East.”
The Pittsburgh community at large, however, has been enthusiastic about the restaurant’s latest offerings, lining up each day to sample the Palestinian menu. Other countries that have been represented in Conflict Kitchen’s rotation include Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela — none of which have apparently stirred up much controversy.
Jon Rubin explained to the local CBS affiliate:
The idea was to fill what we felt was a void in Pittsburgh. So we started thinking about what can we serve and how can we have a conversation that’s not already here. We realized there has never been a Persian, or an Afghan or a Venezuelan restaurant in the city and that not only have there never been those restaurants but, those communities actually exist here.
The overarching concept, again in Mr. Rubin’s words, is:
You can’t always separate food and culture and politics, but food is a way of looking at our common humanity.
Is that so difficult to grasp?