By Eric Behm, Graduate student, University at Buffalo:
There is always a history behind the foods that you eat which can help answer where these foods originate from. Foods can originate from a specific ethnicity and tell the story behind this ethnicity. This notion is important for what I am about to discuss in this post. There exists a restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh that does a good job in teaching their customers about the origins of the food they serve. However, the types of food they serve bring a different perspective of the world to their customers. This restaurant only serves delicacies from countries that are in conflict with the United States. Now, why would this restaurant want to pursue such a thing? Well, the answer is that they want to engage in conversations with customers on the cultural and political issues of these countries that they might not have picked up in the mainstream news media. The restaurant I am referring to that is serving this food and bringing awareness to the issues of these countries in conflict is called “Conflict Kitchen.”
Dawn Weleski, co-director of the restaurant, spoke before a packed audience at UB’s Center for the Arts recently to talk about what her restaurant does and other related projects she has been involved with. This, in fact, was another event in conjunction with the “My Future Ex” exhibition series.
In this post, I will be primarily focusing on her current work with Conflict Kitchen. The kitchen was set up in a vacant space adjacent to a former restaurant she opened called The Waffle Shop. The people that are hired at the kitchen not only have to have some culinary experience but also be well informed about the issues/conflicts that are surfacing in these countries. Countries of conflict which the kitchen serves cuisine from include Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. For a period of time, the restaurant would produce cuisine for one country at a time. For example, in the near future, the restaurant will be showcasing food from North Korea. Specializing in take-out food only, the wrappers that encapsulate the food have written on them, discussions on issues pertaining to that country. Most of these discussions were in the form of in-person interviews with citizens who lived in these countries and they would disclose opinions on their perspectives of the United States. The customers reading these wrappers will be informed on the political and social conflicts between these countries and the United States. Overall, the customers are learning about the cuisine they are eating AND the culture associated with that cuisine. Weleski and the other employees of the kitchen are acquiring all this research by traveling to these countries and researching the food and interviewing people who are making the food.
Conflict Kitchen is continuing their mission to teaching people about different ethnic cuisines and providing a context of the political and cultural conflicts that are affecting the countries where these cuisines originated from. I know that I will be making a stop to Pittsburgh at some point to visit this restaurant and I encourage you to do the same. For anyone who attended the lecture, please share your thoughts and comments on what you have learned.
For more information on Conflict Kitchen, go to conflictkitchen.org.