Friday, November 09, 2012

Arabs freak out over "Israeli Mezze Station" at Harvard with MidEast foods

From Al Arabiya:

Globalization brings the world to your table; quite literally when it applies to international cuisine. However what is meant to be marketed as exotic may in fact come off as politically incorrect, such as with the case of the Harvard Business School dining room.

What started off as a simple post shared on social networking site Facebook – Sara el-Yafi's online clarification notice to the caterers on the University's questionable Israeli Mezze Station – spread like wildfire.

“The post was entirely written by me after I saw the picture of the menu on one of my friends' timeline on Facebook last week,” the Lebanese Harvard graduate told Al Arabiya, indicating she is not a campus activist. ”I asked him if he did something about it or was going to do something about it, he said no. So I told him I was going to take the picture and write something about it!”

Hummus, Harrisa, and Halloumi, to name a few, were all historically fact-checked by Yafi, emphasizing with each bullet point that the food item was not Israeli, rendering the name of the station inaccurate.

“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,” Yafi said in her post.

The student said the HBS has many Arab students, and thought that it was necessary to draw attention to the apparent labeling gaffe.

“During my time at Harvard I honestly never saw anything so outrageous. Apparently in the past three-four years, that Israeli Mezze Station has been showing up around campus quite a lot. As soon as I knew that, I thought to myself it's impossible not to do write about it and really bring to the attention of the appropriate people that this is simply unacceptable. So I tagged some Harvard alumni on the photograph so they can read and share my post,” Yafi said.
I can understand how Arabs would be upset at seeing their traditional foods misrepresented, although calling it "the most outrageous" thing is quite a lot of overkill. And I would have no problem with relabeling the station "Middle East" or "Mediterranean." In fact, the photo on the menu comes from a generic representation of a Ramadan Iftar meal.

But just imagine if the station had said "Palestinian Mezze Station." That would be equally inaccurate, since none of these are uniquely "Palestinian" foods - but would any proud Lebanese or Egyptian student have made such a stink about it? Obviously not.

The anger isn't because of "cultural misrepresentation" as the article claims. The anger is because of the word "Israeli."

Somehow, I cannot imagine Israelis being this angry if Arab restaurants started selling "Arab Sabich" or "Arab Ptitim" or "Arab Bamba."

The article goes on to say that the food vendor contracted by Harvard is responsible for the labeling.

UPDATE: Apparently the photo at the top of this post was not from the caterer, but an Al Arabiya photo montage of the menu juxtaposed with traditional Ramadan break-fast food. (h/t Mark)