Food and Peace

20 Nov 2015

It’s a pertinent moment to be talking about peace. Food as both as an instigator of unrest as well as its symbolic role in forging peace was the topic of a conference at the Slow Food Asia Pacific Festival being held in Seoul from November 18-22.

“We are experiencing a dramatic situation all over the world,” began Paolo di Croce, General Secretary of Slow Food International. “Millions of people are starving while we are producing enough food to feed several billion. “In any society, the first job of politicians should be to guarantee that everybody has free access to food. If we don’t, it’s a form of violence. Violence is the opposite of peace.” He talked about peace not in the sense of a ceasefire, but in the sense of a society’s permanent harmony and wellbeing. “A society without access to food has no hope of peace. Without food there is no harmony.”

The cause of conflict is obviously multifactorial, but as history has repeatedly taught us, access to food is often there in the mix. “Today the main political issue is migration, but the day that everyone has access to food, something will change.”

“Wars and drought are destroying farmland and displacing people in Africa,” echoed Yoon Geumsoon from Via Campesina. “When people can’t produce food and no longer have access to good quality food, they are forced to migrate. There is no peace without food, and there will be no peace without resolving the problem of starvation.”

Even in small ways, however, food can become a vehicle for peace and healing. Cookbook author, photographer and founding member of Slow Food Beirut Barbara Abdeni Massaad spoke about her project, Soup for Syria, a collection of recipes with contributions from dozens of renowned chefs. All proceeds from book sales are donated to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and go directly towards funding food relief. As well as a book, Soup for Syria is a project that invites people to launch their own soup project, holding soup parties or dinners to collect funds. “Who would have thought that a cookbook writer could do something to help others?” she said. “It proves that we can each do something in our own way. Each gesture towards another is a step forward for humanity.”

Paolo di Croce cited an example from Colombia, a country where conflict has created one of the world’s largest internally displaced populations. The local Slow Food network is working on a project to entice displaced people return to their homes, through food production. “Giving them the opportunity to go back to producing their traditional crops gives them an economic return, a hope of survival and an identity.”

He also talked about an example from a coastal area near Tel Aviv, where a small hummus bar offers a 50% discount to Jews and Arabs who eat together at the same table. “It’s a clear example—and there are so many others across the world—where food is a symbol of peace.”

After the conference, University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) graduate and Slow Food Jerusalem Convivium Leader Nadav Malin spoke about the Jerusalem-based Chefs for Peace—a non-profit, non-political organization of which he is part, which celebrates diversity and coexistence through food. Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs work together, holding dinners that feature the diverse cuisines, leading culinary tours to visit both Arab and Jewish vendors across the city and offering internships to young people from different cultures. “We don’t expect to change the world,” he said, “but we can create awareness.”

“Slow Food and UNISG are also environments that inspire peace,” he added. “Today I was sitting at a table with someone from Jordan and someone from Saudi Arabia. That would never happen elsewhere! We all love food and we all eat; this is part of our common humanity. We want to use it to bring people together.”


Photo: © Barbara Abdeni Massaad – Soup for Syria


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