Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Everyone needs to shut the hell up about Conflict Kitchen

Now that you’ve completed the arduous task of reading the headline and doubtlessly have strong and emotional opinions tied to today’s topic, please take a step back and a deep breath.

The ongoing argument over food wrappers at Conflict Kitchen’s Palestinian incarnation is, to be charitable, egregiously stupid and infantile. 

Food is the most fundamental and basic aspect of any culture. Since 2010, Conflict Kitchen has offered Pittsburghers the chance to sample cuisine native to places that typically wind up on the less favorable end of American foreign policy. By doing this, it does justice to the residents of these places — it humanizes the conflict. 

The restaurant has featured food from unstable, perpetual war zones, like Afghanistan, to places with whose leadership our country fundamentally disagrees, like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. It’s undeniable that politics become a prominent part of the conversation should one delve any deeper into these conflicts, but that’s not what Conflict Kitchen is about. It’s about helping people over here realize that people over there are and have always been actual people. It’s about encouraging us to appeal to the very nature of our humanity and find some empathy, whether we ultimately agree or not.

That a food stand nearly 10,000 miles away can’t sell a damn falafel without B’nai Brith taking it as a personal affront from the Heinz Endowments shows how deeply this particular conflict runs, but it also demonstrates what makes having an ongoing, honest and civil discussion about these affairs so important — a discussion that can’t happen when discourse devolves to name-calling and death threats, and that won’t happen when the mere mention of said conflict spurs people on opposing sides of it to the thoroughly disgusting arguments and behaviors we’ve seen since this non-issue became an issue.

To characterize Conflict Kitchen's serving of Palestinian food wrapped in Palestinian opinions as anti-Israel is every bit as facile as arguing that their featuring of North Korean or Afghan cuisine constitute the tacit endorsement of Kim Jong Un or the Taliban. One might as well take it a step further and claim that because Conflict Kitchen only serves food from these places, it is serving as an anti-American splinter cell, here to subvert our citizenry one lunch at a time. No reasonable person could possibly think this.

Pittsburgh is in the midst of a Golden Age. There are truly remarkable people here doing wonderful things. Our track of progressive and community-oriented forward thought has garnered us a ton of positive attention the last five years, but more importantly, it’s made this an entirely pleasant place to live. 

In addition to our art, music and food scenes, we have well-organized forums for discourse on these exact issues, including the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, Global Solutions Pittsburgh and the American Middle East Institute, not to mention your school, your social circles or your own goddamn dinner table, where you can wrap your falafel in whatever literature pleases you.