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Arab students pick a bone with HBS

Stashed in: Culture, Awesome, inequality, Middle East, Harvard

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This is a pretty funny / true comment:

Alright Harvard Business School, let's have a word or two.

I understand that you like to "change" things in your dining room every once in a while to tickle the palate of the HBS kids who have a tendency to grow blasé rather quickly of your stationary Italian, Asian, & Micronesian stations, so you feel the need to spice it up with an occasional exotic nationality... but this, THIS, is where we draw the line. Israeli food station? Hold your breath.

Let's see:

1. Harissa (هريسة) is a Tunisian and Libyan hot chili sauce whose main ingredient is piri piri. Piri piri grows in the wild in Africa. --> Since Israel is not in Africa, Harissa is not Israeli.

2. Couscous (كسكس) is a Maghrebian dish, a staple food throughout Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya. Not Israeli. As for "Israeli couscous", the real name is "Maftoul" (مفتول), which is a Palestinian dish of Couscous.

3. Fattūsh (فتوش) is a word made of Arabic fatt "crush" and the suffix of Turkic origin -ūsh. Coining words this way was common in Syrian Arabic as well as in other dialects of Arabic. --> Unless Israel's main language is Arabic, this too is NOT Israeli.

4. Halloumi (χαλούμι) is a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goats' and sheep milk. It's not even ARABIC. So seriously, your "fuck-you" is not even centered around Arabs, it's going west. --> Until Cyprus becomes another conquered Israeli territory, Halloumi is considered NOT Israeli.

5. Hummus (حُمُّص): Let's get to the bottom of this once and for all. Hummus is an Arabic word meaning "chickpeas." Ok? It is an Arabic word. As far as "Israelis" are concerned, they don't speak Arabic. So unless you change your primary language, you have no argument here. The earliest documented recipe for something similar to modern hummus dates to 13th Century (CE) Egypt. --> Since Israel was created in 1948, Israel is NOT 13th CENTURY EGYPT! And Hummus is therefore NOT ISRAELI.

6. Tahini (طحينه): ONE: Tahini is a loanword from Arabic: طحينة, or more accurately ṭaḥīnīa طحينية, and is derived from the root ط ح ن Ṭ-Ḥ-N which as a verb طحن ṭaḥan which means "to grind." TWO: You can only make Hummus with Tahini, since it is the second main ingredient. --> As per the argument of Hummus, we conclude that Tahini is NOT Israeli.

7. Zaatar (زَعْتَر): Alright. Zaatar is THYME. It is a Middle-Eastern plant. It grows in Palestine and other land areas. Since Israel is modern-day Palestine, then I can see why you would like to make that plant Israeli. And you might be able to get away with it. But get this: Zaatar is an Arabic word. So, to make your argument more solid, why don't you use a Hebrew word for it? Like "שקר", which is hebrew for LIE.

8. Mezze (in the title): This word (which refers to a selection of small dishes) comes from the Turkish meze 'taste, flavour, snack, relish', borrowed from Persian مزه (maze 'taste, snack' < mazīdan 'to taste') and/or the Greek version mezés (μεζές). SO TURKISH, PERSIAN and GREEK --> NOT ISRAELI.

9. "Sweet & Sour": This draws the f*ckin limit. Now this sure isn't Arabic, but I would like to see Chinatown respond to this.

Dear HBS, that "Israeli Mezze Station" is the ultimate multicultural, multireligious fuck-you in the face of ALL Arabs at once from North Africa to the Levant... (while engaging a small spit on the Cypriots)... NINE counts.

If you insist on giving no honor to the Arabs (many of whom are Harvard students/alumni- "hi!"), and/or if you insist on never ever speaking of Arabs in culinary worth (since we're only ever referred to as warmongers and terrorists), at least have the decency of calling it MEDITERRANEAN MEZZE STATION.

Israel already has a hard time keeping face in the Arab world for the way it has "appropriated" its lands since 1948, don't make it worse for them by having them appropriate other peoples' foods as well.

"Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party is an Islamic fundamentalist and/or has ties to the Chinese government. We will rectify the nationality of your dish accordingly.

Sincerely, HBS"


Also extremely educational for all eaters!

May Bsisu recently wrote a book on appreciating Arab cuisine:

Common to all Arab cooking is the use of ingredients such as lamb, rice, olive oil and bread. But there are certain ingredients and cooking methods that are more strongly present in one region than another. For example, in Iraq there is a wider use of sesame oil and in Morocco, a greater use of mint and fruits in their cooking; in Egypt, they make extensive use of legumes and grains, while in Lebanon they use fresh vegetables and raw meat as in the preparation of kubeh neyeh(steak tartare). Yemen is one of the most geographically varied of the Arab countries. A long coastal plane lies alongside its southern rim, while its highlands mark the interior and the desert stretches across the eastern region towards the Arabian Peninsula. So, a typical Yemeni meal will be reflective of the varied geography of the country and will typically include a variety of fish, meat, chicken, rice, potatoes, tomatoes and cabbage.

Her book is called The Arab Table.

This is culturally insensitive, but hardly atypical of Americans' tendency to conflate different cultures. Every Asian American has dealt with being mistaken for a different ethnicity, or asked about the food of another people, even though any of us can instantly tell someone who is Chinese from someone who is Japanese or Korean, and vice versa.

Hopefully, this kerfuffle will shame some more cultural sensitivity into whatever food service company HBS uses; HBS has always welcomed a fair number of students from Arab nations, and I'm sure it wasn't an intentional slight. HBS would never slight anyone who has money.

And I do think it's funny that they made sweet and sour eggplant!

I actually take issue with her posting on a number of levels. "Israel" as a country is a multicultural, multireligious society, and as such, you can find all the things on the menu there, of Arab, Jewish, and other origins (as opposed to the other countries she mentioned, where you probably can't; maybe Lebanon is an exception). Note she took issue with only half of them. Her posting underscores the divisions in that region for sure.

Imagine if you were in another country and they had an "American" cuisine station -- one could take origin with the cultural background of pizza (it's Italian!), hamburger (it's German!), etc.

 This is a funny post. Thanks, I had a good laugh.

However, it is not very conducive to peace.

An alternative way of looking at the Israeli food station might be as so:

The very fact that the Israeli food station has elements that are accepted into their core culture including language elements and food habits can be thought of as a positive.  Instead of a xenophobic rejection of the fact that they live in a multicultural and cosmopolitan area where so much wonderful stuff can be gleaned and embraced from those who live within their borders and without of other cultural heritages one could realize that this cosmopolitan menu is a very positive seed of acceptance on their part that might blossom, if given the milk of love and kindness from others into less fear and hatred and more acceptance and love.

Both sides should, as a daily practice and in all they do, find in their hearts the means of viewing, communicating and showing each other that they truly do understand and empathize with each other at the level of common humanity.  That whether Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian, Muslim, Jew, Christian or any other point of view or heritage or nationality we can find common ground on which to find words and deeds that are not the barbs that lead to war, but the healing salve of warmth and kindness that lead to mutual love.  We must go toward living with and embracing our differences while maintaining that no one should be oppressed, hated or demeaned.

Only through such things as I propose can all of us find that wonderful mix of having fun and frolic in the great mix of a multicultural kaleidoscope that makes life so worth living.  But we can only enjoy such a wonderful ride if we first put our differences aside and embrace them, not let them cause hatred or war.

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