Conflict Kitchen - Food for Thought in Pittsburgh
In 2013, Pittsburgh, PA was named as ‘the next big food town‘ by Bon Appetit magazine and when we visited this year, it was easy to see why.
We dined in some wonderful restaurants and drank in some very quirky pubs and bars. However, our favourite food experience was at Conflict Kitchen – a take-out eatery with a difference. Conflict Kitchen only serves food from countries that the US is currently in conflict with.
Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines – conflictkitchen.org
Conflict Kitchen History
Conflict Kitchen was established in 2010 as an art project by local artists Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, with the aim of generating discussion between diners and increasing cultural and political understanding. Every three to five months, the country of focus changes and is accompanied by a new menu, new packaging (covered with interviews with locals, and those who have immigrated to the US, telling their stories) and a series of events, discussions, workshops and performances.
Since its first iteration (where there was just one item of food on the menu, Kubideh – an Iranian sandwich), Conflict Kitchen has served food from Afghanistan, Palestine (which caused a lot of controversy at the time, resulting in the restaurant closing due to death threats), North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
When we visited, it was a special weekend for Conflict Kitchen. Rather than serving food from Cuba, they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, which commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas and the freeing of America’s final slaves on June 19th 1865. For this occasion, a special menu was designed by seven local African Americans and black culinary artists, and included a range of Afro-Caribbean cuisine: fried catfish and marinated Trinidadian-style trotter to name just two. We opted for the delicious okra with plantain dumplings, cajun red beans and rice with cornbread.
As we tucked into our amazing lunch under the big white tent in Schenley Plaza, we listened to stories from local Afro-Caribbean youths who spoke of the discrimination and white supremacy that they still face in today’s society. They spoke with sadness about the shooting in Charleston two days before, where nine people were murdered at a historic church where a slave rebellion was once planned. Some discussed the portrayal of the suspect in the media – as a mentally ill 21 year old who needed help – and asked if the portrayal would have been the same if the suspect was black, rather than white. The speakers believed not.
That afternoon, we left Conflict Kitchen with stomachs full of delicious food and minds full of questions. It was a unique dining experience.
Politics is usually a conversation topic that is avoided over dinner – but at Conflict Kitchen political debate and conversations about society and culture are embraced and actively encouraged. Food is used as a tool for diplomacy and as a method of raising awareness of social conflict. In the words of co-founder, Jon Rubin:
You can’t always separate food and culture and politics but food is a way of looking at our common humanity – Jon Rubin.
- Conflict Kitchen is open seven days a week, between 11am and 7pm.
- Address: 221 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Click here for Google Maps
- Link to their: Website, Facebook, Twitter
Be sure to check out this great organisation when you’re in Pittsburgh, PA and let us know what you think!