taste, struggle and place

group 1

(L-R): Deborah Ruiz Wall, Laila El-Haddad, and Beryl Van-Oploo

12 April 2017

Tonight was a night when my Aboriginal elder friend, Aunty Beryl and I attended a function headlined as ‘taste, struggle and place: an evening of food and discussion with Laila El-Haddad’ held at Yaama Dhiyaan in Wilson Street, Darlington.

The food was indeed delicious ranging from shorabit freekah (cracked green wheat cooked in a spiced free range chicken broth with a twist of lemon), samak bi t’heena (marinated and lightly fried fillet of fish served with sweet caramelized onions and a light tahini sauce), and much more. The recipes were drawn from Laila El-Haddad & Maggie Schmitt’s cook book, The Gaza Kitchen: a Palestinian Culinary Journey published by Just World Books in 2016.

El-Haddad did not want the people’s conversation over the meal to portray Gaza as ‘a caricature’. Rather she wanted the conversation to lead to more intelligent choices towards Gaza’s future. She likened Gaza’s occupation to ‘eating the people’ — an imagery so elemental, so grounding, that eating and sharing food could not but be, in one sense, ‘bitter sweet’.

Laila 2

Laila El-Haddad (right) being interviewed on stage

The book El-Haddad & Schmitt wrote was not just a cookbook. It was also a ‘story book’. El-Haddad pointed out that the continuing Israeli settlement in Gaza could not be sustainable for a ‘Two-State’ policy. Like Jerusalem, Gaza had become an apartheid state.

She said that the problem was not about people getting along with each other. Rather it was about people maintaining their humanity and retaining their dignity. For her, the basic clue to sustainability was the farmers of Gaza. Could the farmers continue to keep planting their olive tree, keep living, and celebrate life?

Indeed ‘taste, struggle and place’ tonight turned out to be a stimulant for all guests to eat and think and ‘read’ Gaza as a place subject to settler appropriation of people’s inherent rights.

The moral of this story: we cannot divorce food from its history. Now I see more clearly the imagery of ‘settler occupation’ tantamount to ‘eating the people of Gaza!’

————– * ————–

Eight years ago, I was moved by media stories about Gaza that prodded me to write a short poem published online by Eureka Street on 3 February 2009.


 Lament over Gaza

It crushes my heart to watch
injured and lifeless children
in Gaza — collateral damage
or sheer madness?

‘Land is life’, my Indigenous mentors
proclaimed, but I see its antithesis
now when tortured eyes conjure
bipolar images of stories retold
over and over by diasporic tribes
where past, present and future
coalesce in a war of retribution
so that in Palestine: land equals death.

Talk is not cheap, the war machine
that silences the whispering from beyond
our earthly dreams, will keep us all in chains
— away from reaching the fullness
of our humanity, away from
our oneness with the sanctity of all life.


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