Food journalism has played insidious role in disappearing Palestine

  on January 31, 2012
Soda Stream product Genesis 1
Soda Stream product “Genesis”

A food-loving friend writes:

Yesterday you did a post on the promotion, at the popular food website Food 52, of Soda Stream, the seltzer device made in settlements in the occupied West Bank. I noticed that commenter Citizen dismissed the promotion as the work of naive “foodies.”

The line between “foodies” like Amanda Hesser of Food 52, and formerly of the NY Times (and the glossy mag promotion of Soda Stream we’ve seen), and professional marketers is thin to transparent.

Read this profile of wine marketer Anush O’Connor.  Notice Ms O’Connor’s work with “Heritage Wines”–an example of her competence is “four placements per account” and getting one of her wines served at the James Beard dinner. Food journalists are notorious for having one or both feet in marketing.

One of the most insidious ways that the name, idea, and knowledge of Palestine has been disappeared is through food journalism. It’s a Cold War technique, using cultural journalism to advance political programs. One prime example of this was the Time-Life “Middle Eastern Cooking” from the “cooking of the world series”, this volume published in 1969. The word Palestine has been disappeared, though there is a chapter on Israel–an entirely separate chapter, “New Food for a New Land”– though the theme of the book is the seamless continuity of the region, shown through its food. “Nine Nations, one cuisine.”

Time-Life. No political agendas among those foodies.

Or read this obit in 2000 of Copeland Marks, a foodie who was a fervent Zionist, and Arabophobe, among other things. He was in the import-export business till he began publishing food books at age 59. So tell me what you think the “foodie” Mr. Marks might have been doing in Guatemala and Indonesia besides collecting recipes.

Mr. Marks had been in the Foreign Service and the import-export business before getting a late start writing about food. He began in 1981 with ”The Indonesian Kitchen” (Atheneum). His last book was ”The Exotic Kitchens of Peru” (M. Evans & Company, 1999), and he had recently been working on a book about the foods of the Senegalese coast. In between, he explored the cooking of Sephardic Jews and the Jewish community of Calcutta, offered recipes from Guatemala and the Himalayan rim and brought home the cuisines of Malaysia, Korea, Burma and North Africa….

While Mr. Marks’s eternal search for the exotic led him around the world, he also hoped that one day it would lead him home, said David Karp, a food writer. ”The joke was always that the next book would be ‘The Jewish Cooking of Vermont,’ ” Mr. Karp said.

I could quote you some of the “Israel” promotion woven into his books sometime. Granted, he looks to have been up to something more than marketing. But the marketing of Soda Stream in this innocuous way is a commercial way to plant settlements and settlement produce in the US, through this kind of unnoticed, contextless creation of acceptance.

Really, in trying to grapple with this reality, one can’t be too self-important. Nothing is too trivial.

( / 31.01.2012)

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