This is from way back in 2009 when we started talking about doing this project. I was going to erase it but, upon rereading it, decided that its a pretty nice summary of what this whole project set out to do…
Here is our initial project proposal:
We hope to write a cookbook which collects recipes from the culinary tradition of the Gaza Strip. This is a rich cuisine which mixes Levantine and Egyptian influences, and is notably distinct from that of other parts of Palestine, reflecting the tortured political history of the Gaza Strip as well as the migratory patterns it has seen. Food and cooking always exist in a particular context, and all the more so in a context as vexed as that of Gaza. Thus we will also situate the cuisine in its context by exploring the lives of those who make these recipes and the sources of the ingredients they use. This will provide us an opportunity to present a rich portrait of the social and cultural life of Gaza, as well as the dire situation of the Gazan economy under siege. Accompanied by beautiful photographs, this cookbook will offer a vision of Gaza, its people and their daily struggles completely different from the images available in the media.
For each of the recipes presented we will introduce a protagonist, someone who makes and explains the recipe but who also tells us about his or her own life and personal history. Most of the protagonists will be women cooking in their own homes, others will be professionals in their shops and restaurants. A few will be memories: neighborhood characters who have passed away but are remembered for some extraordinary dish.
By introducing protagonists in their own homes and businesses we will have the opportunity to experience and understand a little bit about daily life in Gaza, with all of its difficulties – such as cooking gas shortages, electricity blackouts, problems with access to clean water, etc. – as well as the small joys of families and neighbors.
The protagonists will be drawn from all different regions of the Strip, different social classes and political inclinations. These differences will often be reflected in the foods they cook: which recipes are considered «poor-man’s dishes» and which are considered elegant fare, which foods are associated with «refugees» and which are not. Through conversations with these different cooks and acquaintance with their homes, we will convey – in photos and text – a sense of the diversity of lives in Gaza (in elegant villas, on farms, in refugee camps and tents, in middle class apartments…). Likewise, through their personal stories and reminiscences we can tell the history of the Strip, its evolution from pre-48 to the present.
Many dishes are associated with specific occasions or holidays. In separate text-boxes, we will describe these events with photos and various other fragments such as songs, poems, literary quotes, etc. which highlight the traditional culture of the Strip. Many of these traditions are dying out or have already disappeared (like the Gaza spring harvest festival) and will be presented through the memories of older Gazans.
Each dish is comprised of ingredients, and given the conflictive history of the Gaza Strip – particularly the present siege – each ingredient represents a story in itself. Some come through the tunnels, some are permitted to pass through the Israeli borders (generally in response to an Israeli market surplus), and yet others are grown or raised in Gaza, always under extraordinary circumstances (bombing of chicken farms, razing of farmland, flooding of farms with wastewater, restriction of fishing…). For each recipe we will trace the source of one essential ingredient (perhaps in a separate text-box) and the conditions under which it is cultivated or imported.
– to share the rich culinary heritage of Gaza, as an integral part of the Palestine culinary heritage as a whole;
– to provide an account that lends texture and flavor and dignity to daily life, beyond mediatic clichés;
– to record oral histories, which explore how political reality plays out in personal narratives, especially of women;
– to affirm the wealth and specificity of Palestinian history and culture (gastronomy as place-of-culture par excellance);
– to investigate how the the Gazan economy is presently working, and just how extended the damage is both from the siege (in place since 2006) and from the attack in December-January 2009;
– to reflect on every-day matters which are not generally considered political and yet which reflect the consequences of politics in a most immediate way;
– to demonstrate the inexorable link between politics (forced migration/refugee flows, siege, occupation, cultural theft) and food, and highlight food as a reflection of the former.
The working plan:
We will enter Gaza in July of 2010.
Once in Gaza, we have contacts which will serve to identify protagonists and begin interviews immediately. Each interview will most likely require at three visits to the protagonist, one to discuss the project, a second for going to the market and doing the cooking, and a third for a more in-depth life story interview. The team for each visit will be one interviewer and one photographer. Interviews and research will also be conducted in Gaza regarding access to ingredients, prices, conditions for cultivating and importing products, etc. Further interviews will be conducted with elderly people about disappearing local traditions, and photos or other memorabilia from these occasions will be collected.
All interviews will be conducted in Arabic, then transcribed and translated.
The interviews will then be revised and edited, and compiled together with the recipes into a complete large-format book. This book will most likely be published through Just World Press in 2011.