Basil AlZeri – The Archivist in the Kitchen
Via the excellent Fuse Magazine:
Cuisine is a vivacious and mutable cultural practice that has history and politics folded right into it. The privileged eaters who make up North American foodie culture may often miss the specific histories of conquest and migration built into their eclectically global palettes, but they are present in each bite. Israeli appropriations of Palestinian ingredients and dishes are illustrative; for instance, the rebranding of tabouleh as “Israeli salad,” and maftoul (a small, round pasta made from wheat and bulgur) as “Israeli couscous.” The complex etymology of the word sabra, commonly known as the name of an Israeli-produced hummus, reveals a complex history of linguistic colonialism. In Arabic and in Hebrew, sabra is a generic word for cactus, plantings of which were used pre-1948 to delineate borders between Palestinian villages. More recently, in Modern Hebrew sabra has become the descriptor for Israeli-born Jews — metaphorically and literally, the beneficiaries of the clearing of the Palestinian cacti. In 1982, residents of the Sabra Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon were massacred by a Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, in collusion with Israel, one of the most brutal events in the history of the occupation. The name of the hummus, so cunningly appropriated, can’t be separated from this settler-colonial history.
Palestinian cuisine — in Gaza and the West Bank, in camps and in cities worldwide —reflects a history of occupation and displacement. But more than that, it reflects the skills, proclivities and ingredients required to survive those conditions. Basil AlZeri has captured hours of Skype video of his mother teaching him how to cook from her impressive oeuvre of Palestinian dishes. This archive of cultural knowledge is the private counterpart to a series of public food-based performances he has presented since 2011. […] AlZeri began cooking live as a performance with his mother, Suad, instructing him from Dubai, over Skype. Most recently, AlZeri has been working on The Mobile Kitchen Lab, which he will use as an itinerant stage for future cooking performances. AlZeri performs simple and generous gestures, inviting his guests to identify the Palestinian stories of land, resources and labour that are built into his recipes.