A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

hummus: where satire and reality blur

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 25, 2009

Have you ever heard about someone reading an article from the Onion and mistaking it for a genuine news article?

Today J sent me a genuine AP article whose headline made me wish the reverse were true:

Lebanese to Israel: Hands off our hummus!

Ah yes: another bizarre Lebanese food contest. Poor Zeina Karam, having to report on this.

BEIRUT — Lebanese chefs prepared a massive plate of hummus weighing over two tons Saturday that broke a world record organizers said was previously held by Israel — a bid to reaffirm proprietorship over the popular Middle Eastern dip.

“Come and fight for your bite, you know you’re right!” was the slogan for the event — part of a simmering war over regional cuisine between Lebanon and Israel, which have had tense political relations for decades.

[I agree that having Israelis and pseudo-Israelis try to correct my pronunciation of “hummus” as “KHumus” – say it with extra phlegm for full effect – is beyond irritating. But claiming a dish by cooking an obscene amount of it? And being PROUD of this? And creating an embarrassingly lame slogan – in English, no less? Good God.]

Lebanese businessmen accuse Israel of stealing a host of traditional Middle Eastern dishes, particularly hummus, and marketing them worldwide as Israeli.

“Lebanon is trying to win a battle against Israel by registering this new Guinness World Record and telling the whole world that hummus is a Lebanese product, its part of our traditions,” said Fady Jreissati, vice president of operations at International Fairs and Promotions group, the event’s organizer.

[Ah yes, the Guinness World Record: a world-renowned battleground.What, the UN Security Council wouldn’t hear their case?]

Hummus — made from mashed chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic — has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, though it’s generally seen as an Arab dish.

[Ooooooooooooh. An Arab dish. Zeina, did you warn your AP editors about the flow of Phoenician hate mail that’s about to start flooding them?]

But it is also immensely popular in Israel — served in everyday meals and at many restaurants — and its popularity is growing around the globe.

The issue of food copyright was raised last year by the head of Lebanon’s Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Fadi Abboud, when he announced plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli.

But to do that, Lebanon must formally register the product as Lebanese. The association is still in the process of collecting documents and proof supporting its claim for that purpose.

[I can’t wait until someone tries to register olives. We could witness a full-on Mediterranean war.]

Lebanese industrialists cite, as an example, the lawsuit over feta cheese in which a European Union court ruled in 2002 the cheese must be made with Greek sheep and goats milk to bear the name feta. That ruling is only valid for products sold in the EU.

Abboud says that process took seven years and realizes Lebanon’s fight with Israel is an uphill battle.

Meanwhile, he says, events like Saturday’s serve to remind the world that hummus is not Israeli.

“If we don’t tell Israel that enough is enough, and we don’t remind the world that it’s not true that hummus is an Israeli traditional dish, they (Israelis) will keep on marketing it as their own,” he said Saturday.

[Someone needs to tell this man that in the United States, the hummus contest is not between Lebanon and Israel. Its not between Lebanon and anyone. Hummus here is sold by nationality as Greek or Israeli, and by region as Arab or Mediterranean. No Lebanon. No cedars. No national dish awareness whatsoever.]

Some 300 chefs were involved in preparing Saturday’s massive ceramic plate of hummus in a huge tent set up in downtown Beirut. The white-uniformed chefs used 2,976 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of mashed chickpeas, 106 gallons (400 liters) of lemon juice and 57 pounds (26 kilograms) of salt to make the dish, weighing 4,532 pounds (2,056 kilograms).

It was not clear what the former Israeli record was, and organizers gave conflicting reports on when it was made.

But chefs and visitors broke into cheers and applause when a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records presented Abboud with a certificate verifying Lebanon had broken the previous record. The plate was then decorated with the red, green and white Lebanese flag.

A similar attempt to set a new world record will be held Sunday for the largest serving of tabbouleh, a salad made of chopped parsley and tomatoes, that Lebanon also claims as its own.

*Sigh*. So much food in one short weekend. But again, a bit misguided. Before Lebanon can claim tabbouleh, it needs to take it back from all the U.S. cooks who think of it as a bulgur-based side dish.

Since I’m now in mourning at missing my chance to attend an all-you-can-eat tabbouleh fest, I’ll let my friend B have the last word. B found Al-Manar’s take on the hummus-a-thon, which described it as “mark[ing] a new victory on Israel” and noted that “organizers have hailed this event as “a patriotic event of national scale”.”

Finally, B noted, Mughniyeh is at peace.

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8 Responses to “hummus: where satire and reality blur”

  1. […] blog post on A Diamond's Eye View of the World revealed equal bemusement (or amusement) to the event: I agree that having Israelis and […]

  2. […] considers this food contest ridiculous, Rami thinks it is habal, Maya that it is pointless, adiamondinsunlight bizarre. What did Fady Abboud, president of The Association of Lebanese Industrialists have to […]

  3. snarla said

    Well, there is a brand of hummus sold in the US called “Cedar’s,” but I have a feeling it’s an Israeli company.

  4. I so enjoyed your article. You are one of the few to capture the irony and absurdity of this Lebanese media event. The Lebanese can be forgiven though and applauded. They know how to live in denial and have fun in the process! I mean , no government, threats of war at every turn, refugees, etc etc…let’s make hummos and have a party!

  5. The whole humus affair is rather silly. I don’t have any idea how Mr. Industrialist thinks that Lebanon will benefit from a campaign to convince whoever he wants to convince that humus is a Lebanese dish? So pasta is an italian dish or is it Chinese? Whatever.
    As for the idea that the term Feta cannot be used except by the Greeks, Champagne also cannot be used except by the bottlers of Champagne France and Gorgonzola is reserved for an italian region etc… In each of the above anyone can produce blue cheese, or sparkling wine but cannot use the registered trade mark.Humus on the other hand is as generic as it can get.

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