Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

Spring 2013 Intern

“Everybody wants to eat the whole world through food, but rarely that of Palestinians”-- Maggie Schmitt

The politics of food is a source of knowledge and joy—it is a rooted thread of life to preserve identity; it travels and expands into other cultures and lands as a source of pride and celebration. Food is powerful, and a cookbook is often more than a cookbook.

On Tuesday, March 26th, Just World Press published a cookbook named “The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey.” This cookbook demonstrates how a complex and rich culture is connected to all aspects of food production--the Israeli siege, shortages of product movement across borders, scarcity in farming and fishing opportunities, and insufficient electricity and water. It is a collection of histories of households in the Gaza strip and traditions lived to be lived in other households.

The two speakers are remarkable innovators and academics; Maggie Schmitt is a writer, researcher, translator, educator, and social activist. Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian freelance journalist, author, blogger, and media activist from Gaza City; the Gaza Mom blogs about a variety of issues.

Laila and Maggie met an audience eager to learn about a cuisine which for most of history has been anonymous outside its local villages; the two shared their research and adventure for the cookbook by prefacing it with an introduction to the political life in Gaza, the life of refugees, the innovative lifestyles, and changing gender roles.

During the summer of 2010, they travelled extensively in Gaza to collect the recipes by entering households. Gaza today is a strip of land populated by 1.5 million Palestinians and under the border control of Israeli security forces. The Israeli-imposed security measures have become more restrictive since Hamas seized control in June 2007.

Their research exposed the difficulties faced by an aid-reliant population. The availability/accessibility relationship is very fragile: “Very few people, mostly foreign professionals can afford the few foreign goods on the market shelves.”  In reality, there is a huge humanitarian crisis and 80% of the population relies on rations to feed their families. However, they found that thousands of women there have created paths to make a living and sustain their cultural association, through Women Cooperatives for example.

After venturing into the households of families, sharing moments with women across Gaza, Laila and Maggie have selected 130 recipes of the very local cuisine for their cookbook.

“If we can contribute a little bit to change people’s views of their human life, we make a bit more difficult to harm them” said Laila. For more, have a look at their fantastic blog.

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