traditional foods really strike a blow for the cause of
campaign is latest in postwar cultural
Middle Eastern News
By Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 16,
BEIRUT: Last month, 40
Lebanese farmers boarded a plane for Turin, Italy. They were
scheduled to showcase their local produce to a crowd of some
6,000 culinary connoisseurs for the second annual, week-long
Terra Madre festival celebrating food and drink. It was an
audience rather larger than their usual outlet at the Beirut
farmer's market, Souk al-Tayeb. But on their departure, the
farmers left behind not only a slew of satisfied stomachs but
also a campaign that is now set to take international mouths
Inspired by the resilience
of the Lebanese people after Israel's 34-day bombardment of
the country this past summer, "Make Food Not War: Plant Seeds
for Peace" is the second installment in a trilogy of cultural
resistance projects promoting peace and justice through
cultural expression. (The third project, "Make Music Not War:
Concerts Not Battles," being organized with the Arab
Association of Music, comes to a venue near you in December).
Following the lead of "Make
Films Not War: Shoot Movies Not Missiles - a campaign launched
at this year's Venice Film Festival at a special news
conference held in support of the Beirut International Film
Festival - Iara Lee and George Gund (of the Lee and Gund
Foundation) turned to food and the Lebanese farmers, who are
still suffering from, among other side-effects of the war, a
glut of cluster bombs littering their lands.
"At Terra Madre, we were
completely different in color, religion and race. All gathered
in respect of land and production," says Kamal Mouzawak, one
of the founders of Souk al-Tayeb and a member of the Turin
contingent was invited by the host organization of Terra
Madre, Slow Food.
The Slow Food Foundation,
established in 1986, defends food and agricultural
biodiversity worldwide, opposes the standardization of tastes
and protects the cultural identities tied to gastronomic
tradition - think of it as the Greenpeace of food and drink.
When Lee, who is partly
based in Beirut, met with Mouzawak after the launch for "Make
Films Not War," their collaboration for "Make Food Not War"
was "an organic evolution," laughs Lee.
For both Lee and Mouzawak,
the campaign represents more than the food it helps produce.
It is part of a growing international trend focusing on
sustainable agricultural development and the support and
preservation of local producers.
"It's a political
statement, not just a market. It's about supporting small
producers doing high quality work," Mouzawak says from a
sunlit living room overlooking Gemmayzeh. "Today we eat, we
eat, we eat. But who is in touch with the production? We don't
know where our food comes from," he says.
"He is like us," Lee says
of Mouzawak, speaking from Tunisia, where she is attending
this year's Carthage Film Festival. "We're trying to get
people from everywhere to think about important issues through
film, food, whatever it takes."
Movies and music often go
hand in hand as key players in the battle of cultural
resistance. (In the three months after the end of the war on
August 14, singer Julia Boutros has already put a speech by
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to music and
countless filmmakers have exhibited videos they shot during
the war). But food?
"Sure, for many people food
is food, it has no art. But it is the essential art. It is
totally art," says Lee, explaining that every decision from
the process of drying fruits to the choice of recipe to the
presentation of a dish are forms of artistic expression.
"People are still hungry for culture and art, even if we have
bridges to reconstruct and an airport to rebuild," she adds,
arguing that cultural resistance and reconstruction go hand in
Although "Make Food Not
War" plans to promote culinary coexistence on an international
level, its first project, "Seeds for Peace," partnered with
Souk al-Tayeb on a local level to help Lebanese farmers and
small food producers.
"Seeds for Peace" has three
main objectives: to increase the professionalism of small
agricultural enterprises without sacrificing the traditional
legacy of the local farmer; to promote and save the terrain of
Lebanon; and to sponsor an eco-adaptation of the Oscars,
Asdiqaa al-Ard (Friends of the Earth), which will award five
farmers annually for their contribution to the grassroots food
Not only are globalization
and the expansion of large markets a threat to the individual
producer, but certain foods have become victims. Slow Food
awards the title presidia (from the Latin word for
"protection") to endangered types of food, funding and
supporting farmers to produce and sell the foods that
Lebanon has two such
presidia. Mainly produced in North Lebanon, darfiyyeh (goat
cheese aged in goat skin) was labeled Lebanon's first
presidium in 2005. Kishek al-fouqara, a vegan cheese made by
fermented burghul (cracked wheat), is produced in the Lebanese
border village of Majdel Zoun and was granted presidium status
on Julky 10, just two days before the war began.
"Seeds for Peace" will
offer grants to farmers, helping to produce endangered or
traditional agricultural techniques in hopes of preserving
these cultural expressions for future generations of eaters.
For the farmers, the souk
is practical in that it supports and encourages their
lifestyle. For Lee and others, the souk is the beginning of a
movement, a seed if you will, that will expand over time,
creating roots that will connect cultures through food.
"The more people understand
each other, the less they'll bomb each other," Lee believes.
"People feel the need to bomb because of the lack of feeling
"It is about cooperation,"
adds Mouzawak. "For me, cooperation means work and then having
help. If people go and tell the farmers what to do it's not
cooperation; its neocolonialism."
With projects like "Make
Food Not War" and "Make Films Not War," and with culturally
and environmentally aware activists like Lee and Mouzawak,
dinner and a movie may never be the same again.