Food for peace

Here’s another way to peacebuild: a take-out restaurant serving food from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Conflict Kitchen, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, uses food to bring its customers into contact with the people and culture of countries about which they typically only hear negative stories.

What’s striking about Conflict Kitchen is not only that it uses food as its medium, but also that its target audience is local people living in Pittsburg. Not the Government, not a lobby, but the local community in the town, some of whom also have roots in the countries Conflict Kitchen features.

“Kubideh Kitchen is developed in collaboration with members of the Iranian community. Your kubideh sandwich comes packaged in a custom-designed wrapper that includes interviews with Iranians both in Iran and Pittsburgh on subjects ranging from food and poetry to the current political turmoil. We will be holding several public dinners with members of the local Iranian community.”

By focusing on the local community, the initiative provides the space for people to imagine the lives (smells, tastes, daily routines and conversations) of their peers in these countries. It’s through this kind of personal interaction and awakening to the realities of others that bridges can begin to be built.

“Each iteration of the project 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. These events have included live international Skype dinner parties between citizens of Pittsburgh and young professionals in Tehran, Iran; documentary filmmakers in Kabul, Afghanistan; and community radio activists in Caracas, Venezuela.”

The initiative is unique, and also reminiscent of other attempts to bring US citizens closer to the people affected by their Government’s foreign policy, such as this beautiful bit of activism. Recorded on NPR’s This American Life, the episode shows an Iraqi living in the US during the Iraq War who sets up a mobile stand for people to talk to him.

The peacebuilding field is full of “arts for peace” projects that use various creative mediums (film, music, theatre) to explore and disseminate peace messages. One difficulty with many of these initiatives is how to turn the art piece into a dialogue that allows participants to step out of their role as audience group and into a closer, more individual interaction with the “other”. Food and talk provide a perfect space for this kind of intimate dialogue – cooking for peace!

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