There is a restaurant in Pittsburgh whose mission is to serve food only from countries the United States are in conflict with,it is called “Conflict Kitchen”.
The idea behind it is to expose Pittsburgh’s palates to an unusual mean of understanding of other traditions. The seduction of food does the rest, getting people involved. In September this year, a new focus on Palestinian food, culture and politics was announced. This switch to hummus and falafel turned into more than just a menu change. Conflict Kitchen is now covered with support messages from the local community as the controversy was big enough to attract death threats and to shut down the restaurant for four days. The strong reaction was mainly due to Palestinian territories not being officially in conflict with the United States. Since it opened four years ago, Conflict Kitchen has served a wide range of delicacies from Afghan Lamb Tikka Kebab and Iranian Panir to North Korean Bibimbop or Venezuelan Empanadas de Queso. Conflict Kitchen also organizes performances and events; when the focus was Iran, Iranians all over the world were asked to submit parts of a speech they would like to hear Barack Obama give. When the focus was Afghanistan, a collection of interviews with Afghan children was created. If you take a closer look at your order of Cuban Picadillos you might also notice that the food wrappers are covered in text taken from interviews with Cuban living both in the US and Cuba; this is a much more nuanced introduction to countries which are not only based on dynamics of political conflict but also and most importantly on people.
There is another restaurant in Las Vegas, called “Heart Attack Grill”, whose mission is to serve high-calorie menu items with deliberately provocative names ranging from Quadruple Bypass Burger to Coronary Hot Dog. The purpose of Jon Basso (owner and creator of the Grill) is to generate controversy: he doesn’t allow lettuce on the grill’s burgers. And if you ask for a Diet Coke, you won’t get it. The point he wants to make is that everything the corporate fast food industry throws out at you is absolutely horrible for your health, as is the food he serves. The only difference is that he is the only restaurateur who is unapologetic in telling you that you should stay away from it. In fact, he declares “I want to wake up one morning, open the door and have no one ever come in my restaurant again, because maybe then the world will have learnt the truth. It is pathetic that major corporate fast food chains won’t tell the truth. May he or she among us without nutritional sin cast the first stone. I am honest, I just wish everybody else would do the same”.
All the back and forth of heavy criticisms and strong support for these very different food-related campaigns in the US, by some measure, is still very much in line with what they both aim to do: promote dialogue.