Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Peace of Pita

Growing up, falafel day was one of the few days of the month I appreciated being on my elementary school's hot lunch plan. They served pita, falafel, choomus and techina (in the days before I had to check my Hebreo-Arabic pronunciation at the door and resort to the Anglicized "hummus" and "tahini") and we could go back for as many falafel balls as we wanted. The boys in my class would often have falafel ball eating contests. Some kids even put balls in their pockets to save them for an afternoon snack. Falafel evened out the inequities of the school lunchroom, and that was no small feat. So I was not surprised to read about the role falafel and hummus were playing in the global arena - namely the Middle East.

Granted, due to some overshadowing recent events in that region there was little attention paid to the fact that the ongoing hummus wars took a turn in favor of Lebanon, which reclaimed the world record for the largest plate of hummus from Israel. In the meantime, an Israeli chef in NY created the world's largest falafel ball. In light of the current situation in the Middle East, this culinary competition is especially noteworthy. Israeli writer Etgar Keret wrote a piece for Tablet Magazine about watching the televised events with his son, and wrote:
These food wars, which, until that moment, had seemed to be the stupidest thing in the world, were actually a brilliant way of bringing peace to the Middle East. Because it was clear that as long as we and our enemies continue to be stressed out, righteous, revenge-seeking people, our sacred national angers will keep burning and igniting bloody battles. We could channel all that negative energy into the culinary arena instead. Then we could finally turn our ploughshares into forks and our spears into chickpea mashers, and, rather than boasting that our army is the strongest one in the world, we could become the proprietors of its greatest kitchen. And if that works, 14 years from now, when my son is drafted, instead of joining a tank crew he could be assigned to a secret army lab in the Negev where he can help create a monstrous pan of shakshuka, made of a trillion eggs, that will break the existing record and smite the rulers of the north African countries.

When all the terrible wars disappear from the region, along with the real threat to our existence, and are replaced by a monument in the shape of a huge piece of pita, we can finally start following the example of all the other civilized peoples in the word and die of an excess of cholesterol.

May we all merit to see that day.


  1. Why don't I remember falafal day?! I would definitely appreciate it more now! (Don't worry, I do remember hero sandwich day and "pizza" day)

  2. One of my good acquaintances went to Israel, or Palestine as she calls it, to do 'peace work'. When she came back one of the only questions I felt comfortable asking her was 'How was the falafel?? wasn't it amazing?!' Maybe some day I could talk to her more, but right now it is just a tad bit stressful.

  3. I agree it can be very stressful, especially in difficult political/ethical situations with no easy answer. Isn't it amazing, then, how food can sometimes enable us to transcend conflict?