Food is a singularly effective weapon. The next time you eat, look at your plate and ask: would that soggy sandwich hurtling through the air, convince someone to agree with me on a particular issue?
Eggs, tomatoes, spaghetti, creampies, turnips, the list is endless. All have been hurled in protest for hundreds of years. Incredibly, yoghurt is such a popular choice to throw at politicians in Greece that there is a special word for it – yaourtoma. Numerous movies suggest that American students spend most of their lunchtime engaged in unfettered cafeteria food fights. Eating it, not eating it, throwing it, spilling it; protestors have been using food in activism for generations and it is a remarkably successful way to make an impact. Currently, food is being used to take a political stan das the impacts of the refugee crisis spread across the world.
Whether to raise money or awareness about displaced peoples, cooking and eating national dishes is a positive form of protest that everyone can appreciate. Although closed now, one cafe in Pennsylvania, Conflict Kitchen, identified their mission as “a restaurant that serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, publications, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus region.”
Other restaurants and chefs have engaged in a similar dialogue with their customers, hoping to teach people about their cultures. In California, two Palestinian chefs, LameesDahbour and Reem Assil, cook and serve Palestinian food to teach people about traditional Palestinian dishes and to shed a positive light on Palestinian culture and their way of life. Both chefs were featured in a documentary series called The Migrant Kitchen. Such efforts show that there is no better way to bring people together and to facilitate a better understanding of other cultures than food and the act of eating together. Contentious family dinners aside, itis hard to insult someone when your mouth is full of delicious food.
Additionally, food as a boycott tool has recently become a popular way to express solidarity with a particular cause. Protesting a food festival funded by the Israeli government held annually in Tel Aviv, food industry professionals circulated a petition calling on international chefs to boycott theRound Tables festival in support of Palestinians, asserting that “[as] chefs, farmers, and culinary workers, we recognise that humans everywhere deserve good, just food—from our part of Turtle Island to Palestine. Food sovereignty for all.”
Many of the chefs who signed the petition use their talents to support indigenous people, undocumented individuals, local farming techniques, and increased access to food in different parts of the world. This growing form of food activism is a positive way to raise awareness about issues impacting people around the world.
Other chefs have combined forces to raise money in order to help people affected by war or natural disasters. Internationally acclaimed chef Jose Andres, who owns numerous restaurants, founded World Central Kitchen to help people around the world who face hunger and poverty. When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Andres flew into Puerto Rico, along with other chefs, to cook for people that had lost all access to food. Since its inception, World Central Kitchen has helped communities in Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Zambia, and the United States, with the stated mission of using “the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies.”
Similarly, chefs and cookbook authors are publishing books to raise money for and awareness about different refugee groups. The sale of one such cookbook, Soup for Syria, a collection of favourite recipes contributed by chefs around the world, funds food relief efforts through various nonprofit organisations. Other non-profit organisations have produced cookbooks by refugee chefs to highlight the plight of refugees from numerous countries including Iraq, Algeria, Nepal, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Syria, and many others to demonstrate the value of different cultures that refugees bring with them. In addition to helping them financially, such efforts restore a sense of national pride to refugees and provide a way to stay connected to their home countries.
This growing trend of food activism has spread to universities around the world. Increasingly students are engaging in efforts not just to help those suffering food insecurity in refugee communities or in communities hit by natural disaster, but also to help their fellow students, who are often forced to choose between buying books or buying food. Many schools now have programs where students can donate “meal swipes” on their cafeteria cards that can be used by students who cannot afford to buy a meal. Some universities provide donated food bags to qualifying students who struggle to balance the increasingly high costs of education with basic needs, such as housing and food.
In St Andrews, some university residences have organised food collection boxes to help alleviate the food insecurity faced by those in the community. Charity bake sales pop up with gratifying frequency and help to raise money and awareness for numerous causes and student groups while sustaining students between meals. Moreover, St Andrews has its own delicious answer to the refugee crisis. Counting on the reliable appetites of St Andrews students, RASA (Refugee Action St Andrews) and The Blackhorn Refugee Project will be hosting a RASA Wrap and Falafel Burger Launch Party to help raise money for the Refugee Survival Trust by selling The Falafel Burger and The RASAWrap. 100 per cent of the profits from the sale of these two dishes will be donated to the Refugee Survival Trust to help refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland. In the past, relying on the consistent appeal of good food to raise money, RASA has hosted other events including Indian Food Nights, Syrian Food Nights and A Chocolate Bar for Charity.
Of course, the more traditional and simple act of throwing food remains a highly effective way to get one’s point across. The world’s newest hero, Will Connolly, dubbed “EggBoy,” is an Australian teenager, who famously cracked an egg on the head of Queensland Senator Fraser Anningduring a live TV interview, as he publicly blamed the recent terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand on Muslim immigration. Connolly’s simple, but very satisfying act of protest against Anning’s abhorrent views resonated with people around the world and helped raise money for victims of the terror attacks.
So the next time you test out a new recipe or visit a restaurant, consider the impact of the food you are eating. Not whether the dish is good for you, but rather where did it come from? Whose recipe is it? Who cooked it? What does it represent? Where were the ingredients sourced? Never forgetting of course, can I possibly throw it and how far?