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An International Axis of Edibles

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, July 8, 2010
Updated: Thursday, February 17, 2011
Would people have a more empathetic understanding of the Middle East if they ate more delicious honey, nut, and cinnamon flavored baclava? Could kubideh provide some enlightenment about Iran?

A group of artists who started the Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, take that question seriously. "We're using food as an entry point to help people explore cultures that aren't talked about in the mainstream media," Jon Rubin, an assistant professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University explains in a story in Salon. The Conflict Kitchen serves only food from countries Americans think of as enemies. Rubin and colleagues aren't after controversy or a political agenda. They think food can help us look beyond politics and government policies to the human interests and values we share.

The Salon story repots that the Conflict Kitchen recently held a meal simultaneously in Pittsburgh and Tehran , with diners, joined by web cams, eating the same food and conversing with each other by way of microphones and speakers. Discussion that began with food, buying it and growing it, veered into edgier issuessuch as dating, social customs and job hunting.

Right next door to the Conflict Kitchen is the Waffle Shop, another project by Rubin and friends, that features home made waffles and lets diners participate in a talk show broadcast over the Internet. Digestive diplomacy can foster interesting questions and explorations among people whose cultures differ starkly. Diners soothed by comfort food included a young black man and an elderly Jewish woman who engaged in a frank discussion about race.

An NPR interview by Robert Smith expands on the idea. He chats with Chris Fair, author of the book Cuisines of the Axis of Evil: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations. Fair is a foreign policy analyst and former political affairs officer for the United Nations.She is also a self-described food nut, who thinks food is one of the most interesting symbols of nationalism. Smith calls it "a kind of Martha Stewart meets Henry Kissinger" approach.Fair, who is serious about food and diplomacy, has made a practice of sampling food and collecting recipes in every country she has visited.

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