The terrorist dinner party 

A great equalizer where the devil is seldom in the details

By Glenda Bartosh

The rum was from Cuba, the two kinds of halvah from Lebanon. The assortment of dates, the tamarind-flavoured almonds, the pomegranates, pistachios and the barberries, which added a sharp zing to the basmati rice, were all from Iran. The sweet but tart raisins we used in the lamb stew were from Afghanistan.

I’m sure we wouldn’t have won any points from the 100-mile diet club for our little dinner party, but the simplicity and exoticism combined with the fabulous tastes made it a lot of fun to share with friends.

We cheekily dubbed it “the terrorist dinner”, since most of the ingredients were from “axis of evil” countries or ones known to harbour “terrorists”. We’d obtained them from a lovely little Vancouver shop run by a family from Iran.

Shopping in a store where most of the products come from places that have been written off as evil or been reduced to blood-laced sound bites on the news is a real eye-opener. Holding a brightly-labeled tin of three-bean salad from Palestine, for instance, gives cause for immediate and visceral pause.

Somewhere, a group of Palestinians washed and cooked and seasoned, then tinned the beans. Or they ran the machinery that did. I try to picture them: did they have to wear sanitary uniforms? Hair nets? Are they middle-aged? Young? Happy?

Presumably, a Palestinian designed the green and white label. A Palestinian   photographer took the photo of the bean salad. Does she shoot digitally, or with film? Maybe they even hired a food stylist, since the salad looked pretty darn good. For a humble tin of beans, it goes a long way toward dismantling stereotypes of Palestinians as suicide bombers or Hamas and Hezbollah fighters lobbing rockets at each other, or into Israel.

So what else can we learn through food about the humanness of people living in places we usually see through veils of apprehension or misunderstanding or uncertainty?

Start with Mesopotamia, dubbed the “fertile crescent”: Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Three out of four have been reduced to headlines alternately sensational, fearsome or tragic. But they gave us agriculture itself, not to mention olive oil, baklava, hummus — and, the biggest equalizer of all, ice cream.

Ice cream was the favourite dessert of the ancient caliphs of Baghdad. Sure, people later added eggs and milk and dressed it up a bit, but the earliest ice cream likely came from Mesopotamia — either that or China, now smack dab in the middle of the biggest Communist operation on Earth.

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