Food journalism has played insidious role in disappearing Palestine

Soda Stream product Genesis 1
Soda Stream product “Genesis”

A food-loving friend writes:

Yesterday you did a post on the promotion, at the popular food website Food 52, of Soda Stream, the seltzer device made in settlements in the occupied West Bank. I noticed that commenter Citizen dismissed the promotion as the work of naive “foodies.”

The line between “foodies” like Amanda Hesser of Food 52, and formerly of the NY Times (and the glossy mag promotion of Soda Stream we’ve seen), and professional marketers is thin to transparent.

Read this profile of wine marketer Anush O’Connor.  Notice Ms O’Connor’s work with “Heritage Wines”–an example of her competence is “four placements per account” and getting one of her wines served at the James Beard dinner. Food journalists are notorious for having one or both feet in marketing.

One of the most insidious ways that the name, idea, and knowledge of Palestine has been disappeared is through food journalism. It’s a Cold War technique, using cultural journalism to advance political programs. One prime example of this was the Time-Life “Middle Eastern Cooking” from the “cooking of the world series”, this volume published in 1969. The word Palestine has been disappeared, though there is a chapter on Israel–an entirely separate chapter, “New Food for a New Land”– though the theme of the book is the seamless continuity of the region, shown through its food. “Nine Nations, one cuisine.”

Time-Life. No political agendas among those foodies.

Or read this obit in 2000 of Copeland Marks, a foodie who was a fervent Zionist, and Arabophobe, among other things. He was in the import-export business till he began publishing food books at age 59. So tell me what you think the “foodie” Mr. Marks might have been doing in Guatemala and Indonesia besides collecting recipes.

Mr. Marks had been in the Foreign Service and the import-export business before getting a late start writing about food. He began in 1981 with ”The Indonesian Kitchen” (Atheneum). His last book was ”The Exotic Kitchens of Peru” (M. Evans & Company, 1999), and he had recently been working on a book about the foods of the Senegalese coast. In between, he explored the cooking of Sephardic Jews and the Jewish community of Calcutta, offered recipes from Guatemala and the Himalayan rim and brought home the cuisines of Malaysia, Korea, Burma and North Africa….

While Mr. Marks’s eternal search for the exotic led him around the world, he also hoped that one day it would lead him home, said David Karp, a food writer. ”The joke was always that the next book would be ‘The Jewish Cooking of Vermont,’ ” Mr. Karp said.

I could quote you some of the “Israel” promotion woven into his books sometime. Granted, he looks to have been up to something more than marketing. But the marketing of Soda Stream in this innocuous way is a commercial way to plant settlements and settlement produce in the US, through this kind of unnoticed, contextless creation of acceptance.

Really, in trying to grapple with this reality, one can’t be too self-important. Nothing is too trivial.

The import-export business, but not a very good cook.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Media | Tagged

{ 16 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. dimadok says:

    Maybe I’m slow but what is the connection between Mr. Marks and removing Palestine from the food books?

  2. marc b. says:

    ugh. from amanda (remember amanda and her carbonated revelation?) a good exemple of why i love food, but hate most self-described ‘foodies’.

    I wanted spritzy, optimistic drinks like everyone else, and I really wanted to get rid of the box of cheap seltzer we always had lying around for me to trip over.

    Just this once, I let in another countertop squatter: the SodaStream. We’ve been getting to know each other over the past few weeks. He’s slim and unassuming. He doesn’t require an outlet. And he’s only noisy when swooshing air into tap water. My kids love him. My husband has a new toy. And I now have a small but burgeoning repertory of summer drinks.

    see, she just wants ‘optimistic’ drinks, like she’s entitled to under the US constitution, no, like g-d intended for her, but she’s always tripping over ‘cheap’ seltzer. in other words, the cheap, the pedestrian, is forever trying to keep her from becoming the brilliant foodie that she is. just like mean old mother nature gave her that mug when she knows deep in her bones that she was born to be a beautiful princess. well, anyway, those nice people in the OT are there to help her attain self-actualization on all fronts. thanks, settlers! we *heart* you!

  3. It’s a Cold War technique, using cultural journalism to advance political programs.

    yep, promoting or degrading cultures thru section d of the fishwrap.

  4. Kathleen says:

    This would be an issue that would be easy for writers on Jon Stewart team to mess around with and not get in too much trouble

  5. Bumblebye says:

    “Import/export”?
    That’s, like, a euphemism for one of the acronyms isn’t it?
    The one that went around overthrowing democracies in favor of dictators and military juntas.

  6. Citizen says:

    Phil: ” I noticed that commenter Citizen dismissed the promotion as the work of naive “foodies.”"

    Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I was wrong to do that, even if I only suggested such–I’m too lazy right now to go back and see what I said. I agree with you Phil: “…in trying to grapple with this reality, one can’t be too self-important. Nothing is too trivial.”

    I mean, especially since some folks don’t really have much to grab onto for self-identity if they don
    ‘t believe in the assumptions of their culture/religion–some secular Jews would really be in a crisis of self-identity if they knew how much of “Jewish” or “Israeli” culture, including food tastes, did not originate with Jews. Let me count the ways…let’s begin with Russia, then Germany…

    • patm says:

      …in trying to grapple with this reality, one can’t be too self-important. Nothing is too trivial.

      Think olive groves in Palestine, their destruction is a front-line IDF tactic.

  7. ToivoS says:

    I first discovered “Jewish cuisine” in the form of NY delis in the mid 1960′s. My first reaction was that it was pretty good Eastern European peasant food mixed in with smoked fish from Scandinavia. I thought is was funny and didn’t make an issue over it — the people who liked this food were definitely promoting food that their ancestors enjoyed. Hard to criticize that.

    However, this “Israeli food” schtick takes on a more diabolical turn. Israelis, for whatever reasons, have adapted mideastern food as their own and are now trying to deny the native Levantine traditions and claim it for their own. This is part of the land and resource theft, it is now total theft of another people’s culture. This is not amusing.

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      ToivoS,

      I agree. Anyone who claims that what is known as “Jewish cuisine” is anything other than, at most, variations on common Northern and Eastern European cuisine is kidding himself. They is certainly nothing wrong with promoting it as being part of Jewish culture, as the Jews were a part of the general Northern and Eastern European culture from which this cuisine arose.

      That is not the same as the wholesale cultural theft and cultural Nakba that is occurring now.

    • dimadok says:

      @ToivoS -Jewish cuisine has evolved in the geographical regions were Jews have lived.
      However the major difference that you’ve failed to grasp is the Kosher requirements of it, including the way it cook, its ingredients and servings. Therefore it makes it Jewish and not local food. The understanding of the cuisine is not limited to the produce present in it but also to the preparation of it and combination of flavors.

      • patm says:

        dimadok, you get into perilous territory when you talk about Kosher requirements. And that is because there is a not surprising similarity between Kosher and Halal requirements. Here is an excerpt from:

        Kosher and Halal: Comparison and Analysis of Origin by Valorie Tucker link to wordsthatkill.net

        “Similar to Jewish kosher is Muslim halal. Many of the laws restricting Muslim food consumption are comparable to Jewish law. This is why a Muslim may seek out kosher foods if their own foods are unavailable. Like the Jews, Muslims cannot eat pork or any animal that is carnivorous or omnivorous, castrated animals, blemished animals, or meat that is sacrificed to anyone but God. They have no meat laws beyond that, so they are not restricted to only cloven hoofed and cud chewing animals. Just like Jewish dietary custom, the Muslim community also has a taboo on consuming blood. Meat must be properly slaughtered for it to be acceptable for consumption. Like the Jews, too, Muslim custom only allows for the consumption of fish that possess scales, but fins are not a requirement. The consumption of alcohol is prohibited. The Muslim diet is comparably less restricted than the Jewish diet, but there are rules in the Muslim dietary custom that are more strongly enforced such as the prohibition on alcohol and the eating of any insects because some insects are allowed in kosher law.”

        • dimadok says:

          @patm: That is all correct, except one thing-Jews were and still are living not only within the Muslim-predominant countries. And yet their cuisines all have similar rules and requirements, with slight variations. Also what is the point you were trying to make?

        • patm says:

          Also what is the point you were trying to make?

          That you are all one people and that you Zionists Jews should stop killing your brothers and sisters in Palestine.

  8. Kate says:

    It is not the case for most Muslims that only fish with scales can be lawfully eaten. Shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, etc. are all considered halal, because all creatures from the sea are lawful.

    There are some Muslims and Muslim groups that believe bottom-feeders like lobsters are not halal, on analogy with non-halal carrion eaters like vultures.

    Some Muslims accept all meat slaughtered by other People of the Book (Jews, Christians), presuming that the animals are killed in the name of God.

    It’s complicated.

    Our Sunni mosque holds discussion groups with the Conservative synagogue in the next block — I remember that the one about kosher and halal was fascinating for the many different beliefs and practices among the attendees.

    • patm says:

      Our Sunni mosque holds discussion groups with the Conservative synagogue in the next block — I remember that the one about kosher and halal was fascinating for the many different beliefs and practices among the attendees.

      What a wonderfully heartening anecdote, Kate. We hear such rotten news day after day here on mondo, my eyes could hardly take it in at first.

      Local foods used to be all that was available to most people in the world, so different beliefs and practices among the attendees makes perfect sense to me.