Growing up around many Israelis, falafel, shwarma and hummus were food staples that I had on a regular basis. Last week, I went to everyone’s local favorite restaurant, Beirut Express. Everyone is completely obsessed with how delicious, cheap and fast the food is so it was time to try it for myself. I ordered a chicken shwarma and it was the most delicious thing I had eaten in a long time. Inside my pita there were pieces of flavorful chicken, garlic sauce, and vegetables that mixed perfectly. It was one of those meals that right after eating it, you know you’re going to want to go again the very next day. The food was what I was used to and at the same time completely different atmosphere than what I knew. The menus had Arabic writing on them and yet the food was what I knew to be Israeli.
This rewinded me to a specific moment in time in the 7th grade. Every year San Francisco holds a festival called “Israel in the Gardens”. That year it was in AT&T Park and while I was waiting in line to get in, I saw protesters who had signs saying “Hummus is not Israeli” (or something similar). This brought the question into my mind, “Do we really need more to fight about? Why doesn’t everyone get along?!”. It also reminded me of a classic cult movie:
Looking online, I found that hummus and other Mediterranean foods really do cause a lot of controversy. For example, in Princeton University, Palestinian students questioned whether the university should sell Sabra hummus due to the company’s support of the Golani brigade (part of Israeli defense forces). They felt that if students wanted to eat hummus, it was not fair for them to also in turn have to support a group that they thought was committing human rights violations.
There are two ways to approach a controversy like this- regard it as petty or use it a symbol. Fighting over one food and who makes it could be considered frivolous when compared to the years of history of fighting between these two religions and cultures. Picking one issue out of the millions can seem pointless since nothing is being solved and there is so much more to address. However, some think that the hummus debate in Princeton was just a way for students to start a conversation about what is going on and a way for them to relate everyday objects like hummus in a way to make it hit home. Most people that don’t live in the middle east or are personally connected to the middle east don’t see how these debates can have any effect on their life, but this shows how it is (in a small way).
To be honest, I feel that starting extra controversy is unnecessary. Local boycotts barely affect the company and therefore don’t change the way they operate which means that it is an ineffective way to solve a problem. If the students wanted to educate their peers, they could have chosen to give them more information with fliers or a booth. Signs and yelling is fighting for the sake of fighting and not fixing. Like they say in Bruno, “Hummus has nothing to do with Hamas. We eat it, they eat it. It’s healthy, it’s vegetarian”. Food is a way for all of us to connect and bond so it makes me sad to see that some can make it another reason to fight. Nothing makes me happier than to experience another culture through its food and this is the experience I had when I ate my most delicious Lebanese shwarma at Beirut Express. I urge others to take up my point of view to try new things regardless of religion or controversy because it is completely enriching (and tasty).