As it turns out, far more than I could have imagined. What a curious world.
But for me, this return to Arabic cooking became more than a culinary experiment, or even a health experiment. It quickly also became a meditation on my own criss-crossed cultural identity, and the emerging cultural identity of my own children. I found myself re-asking all of the painful questions that I had avoided for most of my life: Since I am both Arab and American, can I ever really be either? Am I even Arab enough to engage in this experiment - can I ever be authentic enough to cook authentically?
In the early dawn hours of reflections, here is what has come to me.
Food meets you where you are.
Some of us are chefs, others are beginner home cooks. Some of us are far from home, others of us are home already. Our stories are messy, unwashed, imprecise, raw - not unlike the pile of produce waiting for us in the kitchen. And yet, where there is food, there is always hope, a moment ripe for transformation.
Food is always authentic, if it tells the story of a moment.
Food both forms and expresses our cultural selves.
People who are far from home, still cook and eat the foods from their home, and they serve those foods to their children, even in another land. Food, then becomes another home; the table, a familiar place in a strange land. Fed into a baby's mouth, forming her tastes, the child becomes "other." Eating hummus sandwiches in Michigan, eating peanut butter sandwiches in Palestine - we eat out of sync with the ground we stand on, to remember, to remind ourselves, to feed ourselves what our bodies have learned is good, to be ourselves.
Food is not safe.
Food is something that we can all understand, so we try to make it a starting point for the difficult, the painful, the dark. Hummus diplomacy, they call it. But food is not safe as long as people are not safe. And food is not neutral as long as the world isn't sure that we are a people, with a history, and a history of eating food. Our food becomes another disputed, occupied territory, a terrain that we know, we ingest, we try to pass down.
Bint Rhoda's Kitchen
Thank you so much for reading. You have listened to my stories, dared to try my recipes, and touched me with your encouragement, laughter, tears. It is so good to have company on this journey. I am so grateful.