Since 2010, Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen has gone about the idealistic goal of trying to foster understanding between warring countries. The eatery features food from regions of the world under siege by the U.S. military, serving up what Benjamin Sutton at Hyperallergic dubbed “culinary diplomacy.” But that diplomacy has been called into question recently by Israel advocacy organization B’nai B’rith in a battle over the restaurant’s Palestinian programming. Last week, the drama got so heated that death threats temporarily shut down the kitchen.
Attacks on Conflict Kitchen have revolved around two issues. Its Palestine-themed programming launched with a September 30 talk that featured West Bank-raised, Pittsburgh-based doctor Nael Aldweib and Ken Boas, a University of Pittsburgh professor who is also the chair of the board of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA. That event drew criticism from Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle for not including an Israeli perspective.
“Promoting understanding is at the core of Conflict Kitchen’s mission,” Rubin and Weleski wrote. “We have demonstrated this in the past by presenting the food, culture, and viewpoints of Iranians, Afghans, Cubans, North Koreans, and Venezuelans. We believe that presenting the viewpoints of Palestinians promotes understanding of Palestinians.”
Critics have also taken aim at Conflict Kitchen’s food wrappers, some of which contain excerpts of interviews that took place in Palestine. But in a blog post last week from co-founders Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski reiterated Conflict Kitchen’s mission – and noted that they’re good at what they do. “The real story on our Palestinian version is that it is the most popular iteration to date, with 300-400 people a day coming to the restaurant,” they wrote. “Our public is approaching us with trust, support, and open minds.”