The Jew And The Carrot

Food and Palestinian Identity

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Flickr: Karigee

It all started in 1996, when Liora Gvion first wondered why the food served at a local restaurant in an Arab-Israeli town with a primarily Arab-Israeli clientele was the same as what was on the menu of Arab-owned restaurants that catered to Jewish Israelis. The sociologist of food, who lectures at the Kibbutzim College of Education and the Hebrew University, spent the next ten years, off and on, trying to figure out why this was so.

The result was a book, “B’gova Habeten” (“Abdominal Height”) published in 2006 about the political and social aspects of Palestinian food in Israel. The book will be released in English soon. Gvion spoke to the Jew and the Carrot about a related study she recently completed: “Cooking, Food and Masculinity: Palestinian Men in Israeli Society.”

“In most countries, when it comes to ethnic foods, there is a difference between restaurants that cater to members of that group and those that cater to the mainstream, or others,” she stated in a phone interview. For example, in the U.S., the food served in a Chinese restaurant that is frequented by Chinese people is not the same food that Americans think of as “Chinese food.”

Gvion discovered that Palestinian restaurants serve the same kind of food — dishes that have been adopted by Israelis, such as hummus, kebabs and the like — no matter where they are located and who their clientele is. She wondered why they weren’t serving Palestinian “home foods” in establishments where most customers were Palestinian. She explained that these are dishes “made with seasonal wild herbs and parts of animals, like the belly button, gizzards and offal.” Many are stews, and some are concocted from leftovers — something she said Palestinians would never serve to outsiders. “There is much more to Palestinian food than Israelis know about it,” she emphasized.

Through in-depth interviews with 100 Palestinian men and women living in Israel, Gvion learned that in Palestinian society, decisions about what constitutes private and public food are the providence of men only. These distinctions convey some critical information about both masculinity and Palestinian national identity. Men exert their masculinity and solidify their domination over women by insisting that only women do the domestic cooking, while at the same time forbidding them to cook in the public sphere. Men alone are chefs and restaurateurs, which are significant breadwinning professions. Gvion also found that this deliberate separation between private and public spaces by refusing to serve “home foods” in restaurants, was also a way of showing respect to women.

During the course of her research, Gvion met many younger professional women “who are trying to keep up with family traditions and not disrupt family systems, while gaining access to areas [of society] they didn’t have access to before,” she said. Givon was especially impressed by how these busy women, rather than completely abandoning complicated, laborious recipes for “home foods,” used timesaving modern technologies and gadgets to make them after a long day in the office or classroom.

“One time I got up very early in the morning and drove several hours to meet a Palestinian woman who invited me to watch her make a dish called couscouson. I figured she wanted me to get there so early because it involved rolling couscous from scratch,” Gvion recounted. “But when I got to her home at 9 a.m., she spent four hours serving me breakfast, showing me her daughter’s wedding video, and taking me around to various neighbors. Only at 1 p.m. did she start cooking… And instead of making the couscous by hand, she surprised me by opening a bag of pre-packaged ptitim [marketed as Israeli couscous in the U.S.] and pouring its contents into a pot of boiling water.”

It was clear to Gvion that food was about far more than nutrition for these mothers. “In a lack of a state and the legitimacy to sustain a Palestinian identity, they use food as a key way of teaching their children what it means to be Palestinian,” Givon noted.

In the meantime, Palestinian food prepared and served in the public sphere by the men is also about identity. The men control which Palestinian foods are shared with outsiders, and which are not, thus guarding Palestinian nationality. They limit the loss of Palestinian identity by preventing its diffusion by Israeli appropriation of Palestinian culinary traditions.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Hebrew University, Hummus, Israeli Food, Liora Gvion, Palestinian Food, Food Research

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.