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Food With A Purpose: Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen

CK Wrappers with a StoryThere are plenty of ethnic restaurants around — anything from Italian to Chinese, French to Thai. However, there’s a small take-out restaurant on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh called Conflict Kitchen that specialized in food from countries where the U.S. has stranded relations –nations like Afghanistan, Iran, and Venezuela. Each of Conflict Kitchen’s chosen countries and cuisine are augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand public understanding of the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. Every few months the restaurant changes its focus and menu to a new trouble spot.

Cuba is the current focus and the Cuban menu and recipes were developed with assistance from members the local Cuban community. The food comes packaged in wrappers that include interviews with Cubans both in Cuba and the United States on subjects ranging from culture to politics. Thoughts and opinions express in the interviews and programming are often contradictory and complicated by personal perspective and history. These contradictions reflect the range of thought within each country and serves to raise questioning and stimulate conversation and debate among customers.

Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines. According to co-founder Jon Rubin, an art professor at neighboring Carnegie Mellon University, “This is a place on the street level where we can unpack politics together, using food as a storytelling device.”

The winter the focus will shift to North Korea. Co-founder Dawn Weleksi has been in South Korea working with an organization that resettles North Koreans in the South. She is also seeking Korean foods that can be featured on the Conflict Kitchen menu.

Employees at Conflict Kitchen are always busy since in addition to preparing the current menu they must learn to cook new recipes from new countries and determine how they can be made to appeal to an American palate. Takeout food needs a wrapper, and not to miss the opportunity to “educate” Conflict Kitchen wrappers have stories printed on the inside about the featured nations.


About the Author

In 2000, following a long and successful career as head of his own public relations agency, Jim became a freelance travel writer. In 2003 he was named travel editor at New York Trend. Jim travels widely in North America and Europe and has also visited in Asia, Africa, and Central America. He enjoys writing stories that bring alive his travel experience and entice the reader to visit new destinations. Jim is a member of the International Association of Black Travel Writers.

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