Conflict Kitchen, the social practice eatery in Pittsburgh, temporarily closed its doors on Friday after receiving a letter containing death threats. The restaurant recently came under a firestorm of scrutiny from the Israel advocacy organization B’nai B’rith International and the right wing media over its current programming on Palestine. Through a new form of culinary diplomacy, Conflict Kitchen attempts to foster understanding between populations whose governments are at odds with the US. But apparently some groups aren't eating it up.
Conflict Kitche is partly funded by a grant from Heinz Endowments, which is chaired by Secretary of State John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz. The media went into its usual frenzy politicizing the connection, with headlines like “Anti-Israel restaurant receives funding from John Kerry’s wife’s foundation”, “Report: John Kerry’s Wife Funds Radical Anti-US, Anti-Israel Eatery”, “Kitchen Nightmares”, and “Kerry’s Wife Funds Anti-Israel Pop Up Restaurant”.
Attacks on Conflict Kitchen focused on two issues. Its Palestine-themed programming drew criticism from Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle for not including an Israeli perspective. Other attacks centered on the text printed on their food wrappers, which include graphic and sometimes anger-ridden excerpts from interviews conducted in Palestine. Despite these attacks, the Palestinian version of the restaurant has been by far the most popular iteration of programming to date, coming off the heels of Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.
Conflict Kitchen co-founders Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski wrote in a blog post responding to the recent press that "Our public is approaching us with trust, support, and open minds. Conflict Kitchen’s goal is to increase the curiosity and understanding about the people who live in countries our government is in conflict with by directly exposing our customers to these cultures and viewpoints. Another goal is to raise the public profile of the minority Afghan, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, and Palestinian communities who live and work in our region, thereby creating a more accurate depiction of Pittsburgh’s cultural diversity."
Let us hope these new accusations will strengthen rather than weaken their mission to increase curiosity and understanding between conflict zones and show why culinary diplomacy is more important than ever before.
Image Credit: Conflict Kitchen & Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette