The state of Israel has been involved in a long-standing violent conflict with its Arab neighbors, yet Jews and Arabs share a culinary passion: hummus. This humble dip of mashed chickpeas seasoned with tahini and lemon juice is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern public and private culinary spheres and is extremely popular among Arabs and Israeli Jews and, as of recently, among Western consumers lured by the health qualities of the “Mediterranean diet” and by the exotic nature of the dish itself. In 2008, hummus became the subject of a heated debate between Israel and Lebanon that revolved around cultural copyrights, culinary heritage, and economic revenues. In this article I return to the so-called Hummus Wars, a series of culinary undertakings performed in Lebanon and Israel in an attempt to claim ownership over hummus by setting a Guinness World Record for the largest hummus dish. I focus on one of these events, which attracted substantial attention in Israel and beyond: the breaking of the Guinness record at the Palestinian-Israeli village of Abu Gosh. In my analysis of this event I highlight two aspects of the “Hummus Wars” that are of specific interest to food scholars. First, I argue that food metaphors acquire a life of their own and may express unexpected meanings. Second, I point to the unexpected role of mediator undertaken by Palestinians of Israeli citizenship in this event. I suggest that a process of what I term “gastromediation” was taking place in Abu Gosh, in which the smooth oily paste was intended to serve as a material and social lubricant for the Israeli-Arab-Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
The Hummus Wars Revisited: Israeli-Arab Food Politics and Gastromediation
Nir Avieli is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben Gurion University, Israel. A cultural anthropologist, Nir is mainly interested in food and in tourism. He has been conducting anthropological research in the central Vietnamese town of Hoi An since 1998. His book, Rice Talks: Food and Community in a Vietnamese Town (Indiana University Press, 2012), is a culinary ethnography of Hoi An. His articles on Vietnam were published in Journal of Material Culture, Ethnology, Annals of Tourism Research, and Journal of Heritage Tourism. He is currently completing a manuscript titled “Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel,” based on multi-sited ethnography conducted since the late 1990s.
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Nir Avieli; The Hummus Wars Revisited: Israeli-Arab Food Politics and Gastromediation. Gastronomica 1 August 2016; 16 (3): 19–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.3.19
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