Kitchen With A Conscience

Never discuss politics at the dinner table, they say. But for the past three years, a take-out restaurant in Pittsburgh, US, has been throwing kebabs, bolanis and arepas in the face of that dictum. And with a good reason.

Called the Conflict Kitchen, this project by artists Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, serves food from countries that the US government is in conflict with. The goal, as Jon puts it, is “to give [people] as many different perspectives of one country or political conflict as [possible], in as engaging a way as [possible]”. This list of countries is not small, and the Conflict Kitchen rotates its theme every six months. So far, it has served food from Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Cuba (its upcoming versions will bring food from North and South Korea, and Palestine, Israel).

Through an e-mail interview, Jon tells us what’s cooking at Conflict Kitchen. Where did the idea come from? We decided to create the project out of a response to what was not in our city—cultural diversity, political discourse (at the level of the street), and diverse ethnic cuisines.

Is Conflict Kitchen an anti-war campaign? That seems a bit broad. We are concerned with exposing our customers and our city to the complicated lives, cultures and political viewpoints of those living in countries they hear only negatively about in the media. In essence, we are trying to demystify the notion of otherness that we (Americans and all humans) like to construct when we are presented with something unfamiliar and foreign. The goal is to make the foreign seem familiar, even local.

Is Conflict Kitchen’s approach simplistic? Does it imply that the answer to all complex political problems is people-to-people contact? In fact, our goal is the opposite. Most Americans have very simplified views (if they have views at all) on political situations and foreign conflicts. Our hope is to complicate, not simplify, how they see a What does one get if they eat out of Conflict Kitchen? Food? Peace propaganda? Friends in country they knew little about. Politics is a constantly shifting field of relations and histories that are always seen through subjective lenses. Food for us is the first, simplest, and most apolitical lens, and although it is vital to what we do the food is not an ends in itself. We want to give our customers as many different perspectives of one country or political conflict as we can, in as engaging a way as we can.‘strange places’? You certainly get good food and an introduction to a culture you might not know a lot about. “Peace propaganda,” might be a simplistic way to see what we are doing, but in the end we are not really concerned with labelling our enterprise with any one designation. We are happy to feed the people of our city and initiate with them a conversation that goes behind the simplistic rhetoric of the left or right.

Food, of course, is your key communication device. What are the other methods you use to make your point (or build bridges, as the case may be)? All the food comes in a custom-designed wrapper that contains interviews with people from the country of focus. We also do lots of events and programs to further engage our customers including something we call “The Iranian Speech”, which involves Iranians all over the world writing part of a speech that they would like Barack Obama to deliver. We will be assembling all submissions into an upcoming publication that will be distributed to thousands of our American customers and performed by a Barack Obama lookalike in Pittsburgh, USA.

Another ongoing engagement is called “The Foreigner.” Through simple mobile technology, one of our staff members functions as a human avatar for Sohrab Kashani, a young man living in Iran. You can meet, speak, and have lunch with Sohrab through the body of our staff member at the Conflict every Wednesday from 11am-2pm.

We also are working with Pittsburgh's main public library (located across the plaza from our restaurant) to present a curated selection of over 70 books and dvds related to Iranian culture and politics. People can find this collection on the first floor of library just inside the entrance.

You have hosted Skype dinners with dinners with people in “conflict countries”? Any take-aways from these events? The best conversations always happen around food.

You may also like:

3 DREAM EURO-TRIPS

THE 10 MOST ANNOYING CO-PASSENGERS

12 COUNTRIES TO TRAVEL TO DESPITE THE WEAK RUPEE

 

Salil Deshpande

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bowling worries for Super Kings

Bowling worries for Super Kings

After failing to defend a mammoth 205 against Kings XI Punjab, Chennai have a lot to think about. More »

Punjab pull off another big chase

Punjab pull off another big chase

GAME 7, SHARJAH—Maxwell, Miller, Pujara chase down Rajasthan's 192. More »

T20 test for Cheteshwar Pujara

T20 test for Cheteshwar Pujara

The class act from Saurashtra may have to rethink his approach to the mannerless format. More »

Special meeting to replace Srinivasan

Special meeting to replace Srinivasan

The BCCI is likely to convene a special general body meeting (SGM) in May to replace N Srinivasan on the board's disciplinary committee. More »

Shastri in proposed IPL probe panel

Shastri in proposed IPL probe panel

Some members stressed on the need for proposing names with an "impeccable record and clean image". More »

Roach escapes injury after car crash

Roach escapes injury after car crash

The West Indies fast bowler lost control of his BMW sedan due to slippery road conditions in his native Barbados on Saturday. More »

Panel can help clean mess: Raghavan

Panel can help clean mess: Raghavan

The former CBI Director is one of the three candidates proposed by the BCCI to head the enquiry into the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal. More »

Repose faith in Indian coaches

Repose faith in Indian coaches

All of them cost plenty of dollars which I feel is unnecessary for a two- month tournament, says former cricketer Yajurvindra Singh. More »

Cook relieved after period in limbo

Cook relieved after period in limbo

The England captain is looking forward to a fresh start after a dispiriting Ashes defeat last year. More »

[INTERVIEW] Jayawardene and Sangakkara

[INTERVIEW] Jayawardene and Sangakkara

Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara go over their World T20 win, and feel grateful to have fans whose support remains unwavering in victory and de… More »

Need to improve fielding: Ashwin

Need to improve fielding: Ashwin

[T20 Newsline] Lacklustre Super Kings, fast-improving Sanju Samson and other news from IPL-7. More »

Aussie coach joins emerging Afghanistan

Aussie coach joins emerging Afghanistan

Peter Anderson has started work in Kabul as the fast-developing team prepare for their debut at next year's World Cup. More »

Chaos threatens to engulf SL again

Chaos threatens to engulf SL again

As Lanka's head coach decides to jump ship, euphoria over winning an ICC tournament has dissipated into fuistration. More »

Jayasuriya unhappy at Farbrace conduct

Jayasuriya unhappy at Farbrace conduct

Sri Lanka's chief selector is upset at news of head coach Paul Farbrace's possible move to England. More »

Have nothing to prove to anybody — Sehwag

Have nothing to prove to anybody — Sehwag

The Nawab of Najafgarh says a good run in IPL could help his chances of a comeback on India's tour to England in June. More »

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Furious fifties by Duminy and Dinesh Karthik end a long losing streak for the Daredevils. More »

Five things England must do to bounce back

Five things England must do to bounce back

England have appointed a new head coach in Peter Moores. More »

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

Royal Challengers overcame a stutter to cruise to the small target they were set by Mumbai Indians. More »

‘Felt like helpless minority’

‘Felt like helpless minority’

Former BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke says emotions got the better of Srinivasan and he tried to oversimplify things by calling Meiyappan an “enthusiast.” More »

Royal test for Kings

Royal test for Kings

Preview — Clash of philosophies between Australia-centric teams More »

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

Kevin Pietersen's hopes of reviving his international career appeared to end Saturday when ECB managing director Paul Downton said there was 'no way back'… More »

The world record that nearly wasn't

The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

His status as president of TNCA makes him eligible to attend the Working Committee meeting on Sunday. More »

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »