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I cried yesterday. I cried reading about the death of Samar Al-Hallaq and her two little boys, and how she was pregnant. Through this siege of Gaza I’ve seen pictures of people fleeing and children in hospital and lots of gruesome horrendous imagery. This death touches me extra somehow. A mother. Two little boys. Pregnant. Working with embroidery. The details made this woman particular for me; I felt her death as a personal loss.

One of things you hear about the psycho-social pathology of war is that “enemies” become less human, less individual, so that it’s easier to fight them, hurt them, kill them. They are just a mass.  And it’s also possible that in victimhood, people also become a mass, which is why naming the dead, as is true in Holocaust remembrance, matters.  Here is a list of people who have died in Gaza so far this month, not up-to-date anymore  Here is a WordPress site Humanize Palestine working on the same principle.  When you read the names you feel each life and terrible death in your heart.

Here’s an insightful article about the capacity to hold different narratives as equally compelling in a shared, larger story. I’ve thought a lot about that point relating to the ways that aspects of this war are talked about: the Tunnels (“terror tunnels” vs critical lifelines for border-blockaded food and supplies), and Human Shields (women have to hold their babies, for God’s sake) for example.  The ideology that depicts then “informs” further about these memes cannot hold contrasting or competing realities, and thus reinforces the anger, fear, and racism that underpins the military response.  That’s how we get stuck in these intractable yet unacceptable ruts.  The point is, the advice I can offer, is always to look for the story that is not your own.

This is some of the context from which I, as a food blogger, express my own anguish at the violence ,and deep belief that there has got to be a better way. The current picture on the ground in Gaza is just too painful.  How many hundreds of deaths and thousands of wounded and how much property loss and chaos in a region so constantly struggling? This violence can only breed hate and further violence, which is presently hellish for its victims, and ultimately makes Jewish people less secure everywhere and anywhere.

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Last week I felt that as an activist for sustainable food I could approach my thinking about all of this in terms of trying to support Fairtrade Palestinian products. And then, I was lucky to be able to pick up a copy of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey to see what I could learn about food and life in this part of Palestine.

I didn’t expect the book to be quite as amazing as it is!   I say this as a person with an interest not only in foodways and recipes– and cookbooks!– but in all the ways that contemporary eating is political and anthropological. And again, writing  as a person with a Jewish heritage, food and eating and community is so important to us; it’s hardly a leap to imagine this to be true for other people as well.  In The Gaza Kitchen, Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt have accomplished a huge amount in the guise of a very pretty and enticing book.  This is an essential book for cookbook junkies and Middle-East Peace activists alike.

–The authors have written and photographed an array of beautiful portraits of men and women, old and young, farmers and cooks with detailed and personal life stories. You realise, if you haven’t already, how much personal loss and injustice so many people bear, as displaced and dispossessed refugees whose life options have been defined and curtailed by the way history has panned out for them-  even as they “are much more occupied with the business of living than with mourning their losses.”  You feel you are spending time with these folks.  And in the context of Operation Protective Edge, you begin to worry about them and really really wonder how they and loved ones are faring.

–The authors have written sidebars that put cooking and eating in contexts you might not imagine as culinary.  But it’s the most brilliant analysis of how food is political that I’ve read — and you understand how a contemporary history of eating matters down to the way no one can afford olive oil or how UNRWA food would taste like insipid plastic to someone who grew up gathering wild greens in the country.  You get a glimpse of regionality and history in Palestine yet a particularity to Gaza, with it’s coast (and stories about fishing limits), its historical spice-trade centrality, and the presence of people with desert traditions.  There’s trade through the numerous tunnels through which many essential and other cheaper products enter; there’s aquaculture and organic agriculture and rabbit-raising at a “small and slow” Permaculture level (ie in the lot behind someone’s home). You understand as well the baseline of acute poverty and unemployment and under-nutrition of children, and arguments about what “sustainability” would mean regarding agriculture, water, ecology and politics.  And nevertheless the struggle prevails to root hope in a cultural identity through particular spice mixtures, community ovens and old-fashioned sweets and all.

–The authors have collected and described an extensive array of truly appealing and interesting recipes, many of which I hope to make and write about–  a unique and beautiful way to ferment lemons (fermenting ALWAYS an interest), lots of spicy chilli recipes, soups (an arugula/ rocket soup especially appeals this time of summer), breads, different ways with Maftoul, a large “couscous”, stews, gorgeous puddings, pastries….  There’s even a Hummos Casserole, lots of seafood recipes (despite fishing restrictions), and loads of spicy, fragrant enticing dishes with vegetables, legumes and grains.  I’m particularly excited about seasoning Falafel with dill and green chillis, two of my true all time favourite herb/ spice flavours.

(I have already begun to ferment Freekah from Zaytoun for Kishik, a fermented wheat dairy preserve that I’ll definitely be writing about soon.)

A friend once kindly said to me that she thought what I am trying to do in KitchenCounterCulture is “to think through cooking” — to get at everything else through what I eat and make.  The Gaza Kitchen does this par excellence in the microcosm of Gaza.  BUY THIS BOOK to support your local peace and justice group (that’s how I got mine).  Or, order it to sell for your local group.  Or get it on the internet and give it to every cook on your gift list.  It deserves to be a well-known classic in food writing.  And if you like this kind of food, you’ll be using it all the time.

Two articles I want to link to:

Powerful update on The Gaza Kitchen by its authors about the current terrible situation

An article about a foodie eating in Palestine with great foodie photos indeed

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