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Eating in Times of War: How a Cookbook Flips the Narrative on Gaza

In 2010, at the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt traveled to Gaza to compile traditional Palestinian recipes for a cookbook they were planning to write. They went from door-to-door and from kitchen-to-kitchen in historic Gaza, using food as “a narrative device to explore the impact of the Palestinian exodus and the stories of those erased towns and villages,” as they say in a recent article.

As Ramadan is over and yet another round of bombardment falls on the “most tortured little strip of land” in the world, the question once more arises: how do these women manage to feed their families when there is no access to markets and farms?

Their cookbook, “The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey”, published by Just World Books in 2010, may give it an answer: with extreme frugality, elasticity and determination. “They make the kitchen a stronghold against despair, and they craft necessity into pleasure and dignity,” the authors say.

Far from a victimizing standpoint, this award-winning documentary book portrays the strength and endurance of Gaza’s women, who stretch meager ingredients to craft elaborate dishes and develop peculiar methods for conservation, storage and heating. While there is very little these women can control about their lives, they become masters and commanders of the kitchen, turning cold mineral clay into ad hoc refrigerators and humanitarian rations into one-of-a-kind recipes.

As the authors evoke, there is no hint of sadness and resignation but “a cry of culinary defiance: We will eat our bright, rich, piquant foods and know who we are and remember where we come from. We will take care of each other, love life and not be erased”.

For more information: See the book at Just World Books

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Valentina Primo

Journalist, globetrotter, and determined idealist. Since Valentina left her home country of Argentina, she has searched for ways to build bridges between cultures and foster dialogue. Her previous work in international organizations in Italy and Germany fed her passion for the world of development, while her 8-year journalistic experience in Argentina and Egypt increased her curiosity for everything that challenges the stereotype. She holds a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Peace Studies with a specialization in Human Rights.

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