Video, Audio and Text Transcript
Transcript of the video:
Helena Cobban: (02:00)
Hello everybody. Thanks for joining us for this launch event for the Third Edition of The Gaza Kitchen. I am Helena Cobban, the founder and CEO of Just World Books. And I greet you from the traditional lands of the Nacotchtanks and the Piscataways. This is a wonderful moment for me and for our two talented authors, Maggie Schmitt, and Laila El-Haddad who will be joining us on the program here very, very soon. What a journey this has been. The subtitle of this book has always been “a Palestinian culinary journey.” For Laila and Maggie that journey started when they first had the idea of compiling a cookbook of Gaza's many very distinctive recipes. It became a real physical journey for them in the summer of 2010, when they traveled tirelessly up and down the Gaza strip, collecting the recipes and taking the photos that later form the core of this totally engaging cookbook.
Just World Books brought out the first edition in 2012. And since then, here is the first edition, since then we have all been on a journey that has helped Maggie and Laila take their beautiful work to many different places along the way. They helped put Palestinian food on the map of the world's great cuisines, and they put their super engaging photos of Gaza, Palestinian home cooks families and food sector workers into the hands of food lovers everywhere today, Palestinians and rights activists around the world are still reeling from Israel's latest assault on the people of people, of Gaza and Jerusalem. I'd like to invite you all to join me in a few moments of silent remembrance of all those lives lost, those homes destroyed.
I am delighted though, that at such a crucial time, we do now after a long COVID forced delay, have the updated third edition of the book ready for readers in North America and the recipes, and much of the other content from the book are also available worldwide today from the website ckbk.com. And just before we bring in Maggie and Laila, I want to remind you that for every copy of the book that's purchased this month, Just World Books, we'll donate $2 to Chef José Andres’ World Central Kitchen, which recently took their agile emergency feeding program to Gaza just as they also have teams working right now in Juarez, Mexico, and then several cities in India. So please stock up on copies of the book this month, so you can help boost what we give to World Central Kitchen.
Also, my colleague Amelle is behind the scenes here on the webinar. If you have any tech inquiries, please send them to her in the chat box and toward the end of today's program, we'll hope to take questions from attendees. So please put your substantive questions or comments in the chat box too, so we can wrangle them there. So now Laila and Maggie, it is great to have you both with us. Laila is with us from Maryland and Maggie from Spain. So, take it one at a time. Each of you, can you each share one of your favorite vignettes from the big research trip you made to Gaza in 2010 for the book?
Laila El-Haddad: (05:58)
I think Maggie you're still muted, but first of all, I'd like to say welcome. I don't know. I wish I could see who was on. It's always kind of weird talking to a screen. I’ve never gotten used to it but welcome. Whoever's watching it's so exciting that we've all gotten to this point and finally seen, you know, the updated edition come to fruition. It's been quite a journey and you know, we, we always, I think we were always hesitant Maggie, and I'm sure we'll talk about this more about what we were doing and like, whether it made sense. And so we're really pleased to continuously get feedback that validates our initial intuitions about what an important approach and work this was. We'd like to think, but in terms of, you know, one of my favorite moments and experiences really there's so many of them. I think just being able to initially enter, because at that time in summer of 2010, I had two young children, five and two and a half.
It wasn't sure, it wasn't certain that Maggie would be able to get in miraculously. She did, we met for the first time and one of the first encounters was at a clinic in Gaza City where we were told, I think we were waiting for my mother. I don't know why, what brought us there initially? I can't remember, but all I remember is we were, we were conversing amongst ourselves. I think we were told there may be a woman, a nurse or something that knew a thing, or two, or maybe able to point us in the right direction. Like where, where should we begin? Who should we talk to about this crazy project? Would they take us seriously? Would they understand what it was about? I'm very much at a time and place when really like the idea of writing about Palestinian food was certainly not on the forefront of people's minds.
It wasn't a thing. It wasn't considered, it was considered maybe something really frivolous and, you know, almost ridiculous, and why would you write about this at a time when with everything that was enduring, this was really at the height, the worst year of the blockade on Gaza. And as we were having this conversation amongst ourselves, sort of, you know, anticipating the response, suddenly we heard a man pop his head out of one of the rooms. And I guess he must've heard us mention a dish, some recipe that we wanted to obtain, or that we had heard about called fool, like okra and lentils, like a very sort of rustic dish, very seasonal from very particular villages. And till this day, if you mention this to anyone they're likely to like, raise an eyebrow and go “What, okra and lentils?”
And as we were discussing it, this man pops his head in and said, did you say okra and lentils? That's my favorite dish, but it's actually made with fava beans, not lentils. Let me tell you all about it. And about my village and the history of the surrounding villages and the history of Jabalia, you know, under Ottoman rule and Ottoman land laws. And he went on and on and on. And we were like, whoa. And then all these other people came and surrounded us. And like the enthusiasm was just infectious. And really that was sort of the beginning. It was like, just suddenly we were thrust into the throws of this. And it just was, it was like this one person after another, after another, after another, for the, for the next two months. And then we realized like then and there, okay, we're clearly not going to have a problem with like, you know, conversing with people. They get it. There's no shortage of recipes. There's only a shortage of pages. And we knew we were onto something. And that we were greeted so warmly and enthusiastically they, everybody knew that this was, you know, we were on the right track.
Maggie Schmitt: (09:53)
You know, it's funny, Helena mentioned that she was going to ask us about favorite vignettes and then Laila. And I didn't talk in advance about vignettes we wanted to share, but I was thinking of exactly that same moment as the sort of moment of, of going in kind of nervously, like how do we broach this question and, and, and getting a total, like it was our first day in Gaza together. We had never met each other before. Like all of this came about in, in the most sort of serendipitous and improbable way, our encounter with each other, the decision to like, you know, it's kind of now, or never, we have this opportunity to get into Gaza, let's try it. And then being that, like, we didn't know each other, we weren't really quite sure we were doing, we had this idea. We were really convinced it was a great idea, but, and, and that moment in the Red Crescent office was that like total reaffirmation of like, yes, indeed.
Like you can use recipes as a way to tell social history, tell, you know, talk about politics and economics from a totally different position. Talk about family histories about legacies, about memory, about all of this stuff that we were convinced you could tell through food, but we thought people might think we were, you know, daft proposing it. And, in that one moment at the Red Crescent, we were there, like by accident, we were there to pick up Laila’s kids or something or get a key to the house. Or I don't know it was something completely unrelated to the actual research and suddenly like every door in the office opened and everybody converged upon us wanting to fight about whether this or that dish had onions or garlic or, and we're like, all right, we're going to be okay, this is going to be fine.
And from there, it was, you know, one, one auntie that led us to the next that let us to the next. And really we were so hesitant, it's a lot to ask people to like, can I come into your house, spend the whole day with you, cook your foods, interview you, talk to you, you know, mine you for your family knowledge and your personal history. It's a big ask. And we were a little bit timid about, you know, how do we go about getting people to give us all this information? And suddenly it was like the floodgates opened up and we were rolling.
Helena Cobban: (12:05)
Not to mention it was Ramadan and there were constant electricity cuts. I mean, there's a couple of beautiful photos in the book. There's one of Maggie holding the light up above the person, making, making the, the cherry jam or whatever it was.
Maggie Schmitt: (12:21)
It was definitely an anecdote we had spent all day looking for those cherries. They're kind of treat, the kind of small sour cherries that are traditionally local, but they're very few of those trees left because of the sort of systematic razing of orchards and fruit growing areas along the border zone. So they're very few and, you know, the unavailability of water and all of these other issues. So there are very few at airasia trees still producing and, and we had, you know, alerted everyone we could, if you see at airasia for sale, we need them. And finally, finally, we got them and finally, finally, we're making this airasia jam and then boom, the lights went out and we're like, how do we take pictures in darkness? So, yeah.
Helena Cobban: (13:15)
So anyway, Maggie, this is a good followup for you as someone who is not originally from Gaza, unlike Laila, who has like generations of Gaza food knowledge, maybe for you, what have you found to be the most distinctive thing about Gazan cuisine?
Maggie Schmitt: (13:34)
I mean the most distinctive there, there's what we always say, what characterizes Gaza cuisine? Well, it was the sort of peculiarly, fresh herbs, lots of sour tastes, whether from, you know, sour cherries, like we mentioned the at Astia or, uh, or sac or lemon or, uh, sour, uh, wild greens like sorrow anyway, the fondness for sourness of fondness, for spiciness and for lots of green herbs, especially dill, which is unusual in the whole region. So that's kind of what we always say, uh, as, as the peculiarities of Gaza and cuisine, sort of in contrast with the other, , the kind of continu of, of Levantine cuisine that surrounds it then, and that obviously it forms part of. , but I think for me talking to people about the experience and it's been, uh, reaffirming for me talking to the users of the cookbook and people that have, have read it and used it that I think we managed to transmit it in the book because people have sort of reflected it back to me, like the pleasure of immersing yourself in a whole new grammar of cooking.
Like there are a lot of the hows, and one of the sections of the book we talk about like, a lot of the part of what's so fantastic about this cuisine is like the clarity and precision of each taste. They really, really, really value this sort of like think clear as a bell, like you can taste each thing, there's nothing smudgy about it. And, and part of that comes from like the way you clean the ingredients before cooking them, the way you clean the pots and pans. I mean, even the, the apparatus and then the grammar of cooking, like how you, I don’t know, to give one example, like the way I learned to cook the sort of, you know, French derived, Western traditions of cooking, you brown something, and then you brace it in liquid. And the general sort of Middle Eastern approach is first, you cook it in liquid, and then you brown it afterwards, and these are minor things, but they have a huge impact on, on texture, on taste, on, on how things, how flavor is transmitted. And for me, it was just a pleasure to be sort of immersed in this other grammar and try to understand it and try to figure out how it works. And it was a big sort of learning voyage that has influenced very much how I cook, whether I'm cooking Gazan food or not like it's, it's a whole way of doing that changes.
Helena Cobban: (16:28)
My goodness, there's somebody who wants to say something!
Raj Patel: (16:36)
Hello. Uh, my name is Raj Patel, uh, and I'm here in the occupied territories of the Comanche and Tonkawa people in Austin, Texas. Now, when I first saw the first edition of The Gaza Kitchen, uh, 10 years ago, I was blown away by the breadth of sociology of history and of gastronomical good taste that was inside. Now, this third edition builds on that foundation and reminds us that despite an ongoing and brutal occupation, a deep dignity and humanity survives in Gaza, a hanity that can and does share one of the world's greatest cuisines despite living under one of its worst food systems. Uh, if you're keen to connect and understand this part of the world better, I can't think of a better place to start than The Gaza Kitchen.
Reem Assil: (17:25)
Congratulations, Laila and Maggie on your third edition release of The Gaza Kitchen. I'm just so happy that we have a book like The Gaza Kitchen out there was instrental to my development, not only as a chef, but as a Palestinian and diaspora really understanding the foods of my people. And it just means so much, uh, for you all to have put our food essentially on the map here in the American mainstream. Congratulations again, and can't wait to see the new edition.
Helena Cobban: (18:04)
It's so lovely to hear from your friends. I mean, the amount of enthusiasm that everybody has for your book, so, okay. Laila, you're up now? What food from the book have you brought with you today?
Laila El-Haddad: (18:19)
Ah, yes. Well, I did want to say, I know you mentioned generations of Gazan food knowledge, but, but this is the thing. And I think this is critical to the conversation I, that a lot of that was lost. Right. And I think it's lost, not lost, not only to me as a Palestinian who grew up in diaspora, even though I was visiting Gaza regularly, right. I was largely in the Gulf and estranged, you know, and that's that applies to, you know, millions of Palestinians, most of whom have not had a chance to physically visit their homeland. And even when they do right, they're, they're, they're fragmented and, forcibly separated from other parts of Palestine and from family oftentimes, and from that knowledge, right from that culinary knowledge and, , and you know, that's part of why we wrote the Gaza kitchen and we've mentioned this multiple times, but most of the residents of, of, of us are not from there, right.
They're from other towns and villages that have been completely erased and demolished. So I like going into this, I didn't know. I knew there were a lot of really interesting dishes, unique to us that other Palestinians weren't making, where I grew up, but I didn't know, like maybe more than half of what I discovered, you know, and I think this applies equally to even Palestinians who currently live in Gaza. They'll, they'll, like I mentioned before, they'll, they'll raise an eyebrow and say, oh, Corrine lentils, you know, or, , it's very regionally specific. So I certainly didn't know everything. I didn't inherit all of this. I'm always still really excited when something works. I know people find this surprising. They're like, oh, you're a chef. Like, no, no, I'm not, I wasn't trained as a chef. Like I love food and I love the way that food brings people together and tells a different story.
But I'm certainly not, I'm always a little bit of a food geek. And I always say, I still get excited when my Maqluba flips perfectly. I still, I'm not like one of those ones who just effortlessly puts together a table and it all comes together seamlessly. So this is a journey of discovery for me, as much as I think, as it was for, for everyone else. So I'll just put that out there. But, that being said, what I'm making, you know, I figured nothing too complicated. I wanted to make it sort of a classic, right. I'm just gonna move this back a little bit. Excuse me, one that obviously most people are probably familiar with, but that nevertheless, I thought just perfectly encapsulates and summarizes, you know, what Gaza is about. And, when we think of Gaza, you know, the most iconic salad is dagga or Salata Ghazawiyya, right?
Which is this, a hot chili and tomato and dill mashed salad for lack of a better term. We always like to refer to it as a salsa, like consistency. Cause when you say salads, people think of kind of like leafy, you know, but it is called Salata Ghazawiyya, Gazan salad and it has a lot of variations, but it's, what's most often, you know, synonymous with class Gazan cuisine, not sort of the rural of cuisine or the cuisine of the [inaudible] or anything like that. And my grandmother who herself wasn't Palestinian, but was born and raised in Palestine, used to call it the centerpiece of the Gazan table. And so it's always made with a zibdiya and, um, um, for those who are joining us who are not familiar, I apologize if I'm repeating myself like a thousand times, it's an unglazed clay, a mortar and a lemon wood pestle traditionally now in the modern day.
And this also speaks to the sort of, you know, dire conditions under which most Palestinians in Gaza live. This itself is cheap, right? It's just made from the sort of earth and clay and, and fired in Gaza in a, in a tradition that dates back thousands of years, but getting the lemon wood pestle most people when I went back there recently wouldn't be able to get the real deal. They would just get the plastic. It's not become as affordable. And, and, um, it has a, you know, sort of a rough interior. It's not glazed. I always tell people if you don't have this, this is what it's always served in and what you'll see in every Gazan household, right? As Maggie and I learned, I mean, I knew this of course, as Maggie learned. And, but, but we did learn that people try, some of them keep these zibdiyas for generations.
We met someone who I'll talk about it a little bit, who has since passed away from COVID, but who had one that was 30 years old, that he considered a member of his family. Right. They get nice and seasoned. So Palestinians of us are very passionate, but go a little bit further, go to anywhere, anywhere else in Palestinian, they will have no idea what this is. Right. They won't use it, so interesting. It is kind of ubiquitous and central to the cuisine. I always tell people like don't panic, really any mortar and pestle, except for the little tiny ones or the ones that are really smooth will do. I, you know, I have a nice like granite one that works. And then I'm like in a pinch, just grab a rock from your garden or from the yard. Honestly, this does work.
I've done, I've done it before use, uh, you know, any board and you can mash it on the, it works just fine. I mean, just if you're careful, I just don't like using the food processor. So without further ado and really worse comes to worse, use just a knife and just mash. But, I just liked the texture of it. Right. I don't like that. So I'm just gonna, this is very quick. I don't want to take up too much time cause we want to keep conversing and happy to do so. All you do is you take a pinch of salt, and that just helps the garlic that you're going to mash. It gives it a little bit more friction and this is a point of contention. If anyone is watching and is from Gaza, I’m sure I'm going to get a lot of like feedback.
I grew up with it with garlic, but maybe half of other Palestinians grew up with saying, no, it must be made with onion, like a small little onion or green onion or something. Never with garlic. It's it's again, one of these things that people feel really passionate about, like it is absolutely not that good to make it with garlic and other say, no, it is so garlic, but I'm going to, before that, I'm going to say, it's ordinarily made with fresh dill, right? This is from my, just picked it from my garden. So everything here is seasonal, which is great. However, growing up when I was in Saudi Arabia, it was really hard to find dill greens. And so we would use dill seeds, right. And, and they, they do also use this in Gaza out of season, but we most often used it in diaspora because dill greens were hard to find.
I like to now in my present day kitchen mix a little bit of both. I find they both add unique flavors. You can find dill seeds online and at Turkish markets and Persian markets, so I'm just going to start before the garlic with the dill seeds and the salt. And then just you kind of in a circular motion, if you're gonna coarsely, you can smell it already. You can coarsely just grind, you don't want them to be like a powder. And I always give this anecdote of my grandmother, who hated cooking and would always tasked me with like the laborious jobs like this. And she would say to me, like, I would go like this. I was really like teeny tiny skinny kid. And she was anemic. And she would be like, don't, don't grind like a whim. She's like, put some muscle into what you have to hold it down and really go like this.
So I always think of her when I smell those beautiful, the dill oil, you know, very strong. So that's it. And then you just add your garlic or onion and just give it a quick firm mash. You don't want big chunks of garlic. And that's going to be followed by the hot peppers. I have some jalapenos here. You can use Serrano peppers and in Gaza they have their own unique variety of like searingly hot pepper. I once made the mistake of like chopping and then going and making wudu do it before prayer, like abolition, don't ever do that. My eyes were on fire for about an hour. So I'm just, I have some that I have pre-chopped here. I'm just going to use them because I don't want to waste them. So, usually I would recommend removing some of these white, like piths, if you don't want to, you know, can little bitter chunks of pepper, but, again, this is super simple and just give it a rough chop because you're ultimately going to use your mortar and pestle as the, you know, your food processor kind of thing. And then just smashed those peppers quickly.
My dad used to always say, I guess, dagga should be more green than it is red. Meaning like you really want to go heavy on those chili peppers. Don't be afraid of the heat. And you know, even though again, ask any Palestinian what they know of Gazan cuisine and they will frequently say they'd like it hot, right? Like the peppers. But we, you know, we discovered that's not your virtually true and significant part of the population who are not traditionally from Gaza, don't like their food hot and don't like garlic, right? So they won't, they'll often say, oh, that's something they make in the city, but you know, we don't, we are from, you know, insert village here. We don't make it that way. Right. So for example, where I, I'm adding dill, if you go a bit further North and I'm just adding to, you know, roughly chopped, really ripe tomatoes, this works really well for those, like, you know, peak of summer tomatoes that are just oozing with juice or whatever, don't discard them. This is what they're made for, but if you go just a few miles or kilometers north of Gaza city, and you'll, you'll end up in some of the other villages. They will maybe omit the dill and add parsley and a little tahina or cucumbers or jirja then suddenly it's called Salata Beit Jirja or something else. So there's a lot of little variations, remove the garlic, add onion, remove the dill, add parsley, you know, add lemon juice and tahina and mix it all together. So I'm just showing you kind of the classic one. And I don't want to take up too much time. I feel like I could talk about this one salad for like an hour, pretty much almost done here. So I’m just gonna mash the tomatoes. And again, this should be effortless if the tomatoes are really right, you're not going to need to do a whole lot. I can show everyone what it looks like so far, but I'm just kind of mashing all that goodness together. And like Maggie said, you can really taste and smell each of those elements, like the garlic and the, and the dill seeds. I haven't yet added the dill greens and the tomato. And it's just, I always say this, but it's true. It's like an explosion of flavors in your mouth.
And I'm just like managing to get like tomatoes and chili everywhere. Now my whole kitchen is eating with me. So I'm a very messy cook. I should say. My mom always says, I need a whole staff with people when I'm cooking, because I just can't be bothered. Okay. So I'm just, I, I like to just chop and then like mix in the dill. I find that if you actually try to like mash it, it gets kinda bitter. I don't know why, if you've had that experience or not. So just adding a little bit, I'm not adding too much just because I didn't have that much. It's kind of towards the end its of the season here. So, but you should be adding a little bit more than what I just added. And then I'm just going to grab a spoon and stir everything together and then add a little bit of a drizzle of lemon juice.
Again, if my mother was here, she would just be horrified and say, you don't add lemon juice, but it really just depends where, what part of Gaza you're in. You know, make things a little bit differently. So just finish it off with a little squeeze of lemon juice. And like I said, you can add a little bit of tahina at this point, sesame seed paste, and it will transform into Salatit Abu Safiya, who, you know, we mentioned, we talked about was this incredible man, incredibly generous with both his knowledge and his time. And he invited us to his house and told us all about his, the zibdiya and the various salads that he was like super enthusiastic about making and showed us a couple of them. And we had a recipe named after him called Salatit Abu Safiya. And he was from Hamama, the village of Hamama, and sadly, his daughter informed me a few months ago, she was in New Zealand I believe, that he had passed away from COVID.
And how, you know, touched you was by the fact that she hadn't been able to see him in 10 years because of the blockade and restrictions on travel for Palestinians, which is very typical. Of course, it's incredibly sad, but she felt like she was so happy that his, you know, he, his, his recipes, his knowledge was like, you know, preserved in the book. And that really touched me, I think, a lot. So, like I said, you add a little bit of tahina and it transforms into a salad that we had named after him. So I'm just adding this great Canaan Fairtrade Palestinian olive oil on top, and you want to like a really generous drink with olive oil. Right. Don't be afraid. And then that's it. And that's dagga for you. Uh, I don't know if you had anything to add, and again, I wish I could share it with you all. Don't take a quick picture before we continue. Let's see if I can or not.
Helena Cobban: (31:26)
All right, fantastic. Oh, wow. I wish I could be there, but guess what? There's some other people who want to be here too.
Sami Tamimi: (31:37)
Hi, I'm Sami Tamimi. I'm a chef and author from London, UK. The Gaza Kitchen cookbook was far ahead of time, and I believe it was a book that allowed other Palestinian cookbook to be published. Uh, it also allowed, uh, the world to see inside of the Gaza.
Reem Kassis: (32:00)
Hi guys, Reem Kassis here author of the Palestinian table and the Arabesque table. And I just wanted to give a shout out to my good friend Laila El-Haddad's book, The Gaza Kitchen whose third edition is coming out. Now it's actually the first Palestinian cookbook I remember hearing about, and I know her work has paved the way for many of us who have come out after her. So please do support it. Do buy it. It's a wonderful book with so many very unique recipes and it'll make your kitchen smell wonderful and your table be full with delicious food.
Helena Cobban: (32:35)
Thank you. Wow. And thank you Laila for that amazing food demo.
Laila El-Haddad: (32:46)
I don't think anyone else in my family will eat. This is the tragedy, right? Like my husband is from the north of Palestine. Anyway, so Maggie, please come and join me.
Helena Cobban: (32:53)
So, Maggie, you have talked about how the view from the kitchen gives someone a distinctive perspective on the world. Can you or Laila elaborate on that a little bit?
Maggie Schmitt: (33:15)
Yeah. I think, I think the strategy of the book and the book, when we propose doing it, it was for a number of different reasons. Like on the one hand, nobody had documented the food traditions as we mentioned before. And so there was a, a real interest in the food itself, but then also looking around at how Palestinian stories get told, especially in the United States, especially at that time. Like, I, I think, I think now that things are shifting a lot, uh, about what stories get told and, and how, but at that moment, the sense was of a real impasse. And like, how can we talk about the history of the economy, the blockade what's going on there in a, in a really different way that gives people access to, you know, live daily life and how people they're actually experiencing their reality and start just go out over some of the impasses and some of the cliches about, uh, about Palestine, about, uh, the Palestinian people.
So the strategy was to try to tell the story sort of from, from the kitchen view, like how, how do you, how do you look out the kitchen window and understand the world? So we're talking about the food, but we're not only talking about the food. The food is always taking place in a context. And that context is obviously political, it's economic, it's ecological, it's social, there's, there's a lot going on. And I think it's really privileged. The kitchen provides a sort of privileged, uh, point of departure for looking at things because each ingredient has to come from somewhere. Each ingredient brings with its whole story. And, and we can kind of start with the recipe and then like pull on those threads and climb out from there. Uh, in order to trace the whole, really like labyrinthine food system, how we, each ingredient gets there.
Uh, and, and what kind of access people have to it. And it's a, it's a way of talking about the domestic economy of each individual household, the family history of each household, because as each and every one of us, no matter where you're from knows like the food you cook always comes with some story, it always comes laden with recollections of, you know, a favorite neighbor or an aunt or a, somebody like food, food brings with it stories. And so it's the, the family history is sort of sociological stuff about who did you learn to cook from and how did you, how was that transmitted and, and, and understanding, you know, who cooks, who takes responsibility for food stuff within a household. And then, and then what it tells us also about the stories, you know, the, the ingredients bring with us. So I think the effort through the book was to, to try to do at least to some extent, all of those things.
And what we found was that it really does work to tell a very different story than, I mean, the, the anecdote or the, the observation we always share is that if you go and you say, you know, I want to talk about, uh, the borders, or I want to talk about the political economy here. I want to talk about, you'll always get referred to usually a sort of relatively high ranking male person who will give you, you know, whatever that moments’, kind of official position is the, the politically, strategic or salient way of describing what's happening at that moment. And I think most journalists entering Gaza at that moment, we were seeing, you know, journalists sort of being airlifted in, coming in, doing four interviews with, you know, whatever authoritative figure they were being referred to and then leaving. And, you know, those are, those are valid stories, but it's a very different story.
If you, if you go in asking for lentil recipes, instead of being referred to that sort of authority figure, male, you get shuffled into the kitchen and that's where this whole other conversation was going on. And that's where, you know, as, as we all know, like the real conversations always happening in the kitchen, the, the, the real figuring out of like, how do you make ends meet? How do you, how do you put food on the table, uh, in these economic circumstances, where's that food coming from? How do you get it, uh, and, and tracing that stuff. So, for us, the kitchen was really a privileged entree into understanding the food, but also so much more that goes beyond food or the stories that the food brings with it. Laila, anything to add?
Helena Cobban: (38:08)
You know, you actually, just, when you were doing the cooking demo, you told us 70 stories, you demonstrated it.
Laila El-Haddad: (38:18)
Well, I was going to say if I cook something, you know, yeah. I, I, you asked me directly, I'll just struggle to think. But I think that was the idea, right? When we went into people's homes and we sat with them, you know, I think their initial, you know, their instinct was to try to serve us, you know, the fanciest and most like celebratory dishes. But when we would say, no, no, show us how to make this like really simple or something you would have on a weeknight. You know, they were kind of scratching their heads, like real, like, this is embarrassing. This is what you want me to show you.
Maggie Schmitt: (38:51)
So hospitable that they wanted to do the like lavish banquet foods. Every time they have a guest, but we would have to say, no, like really, really we want the sort of humble weeknight food.
Laila El-Haddad: (39:04)
And I think that's maybe where also the book differs from a lot of other books on Palestinian cuisine is we really did want to capture those, you know, every day, seasonal, regional, specific dishes, you know, not the kebabs and the Manasseh and the whatnot. I mean, certainly we talk about those dishes and recover them, but we were more interested in this other aspect, of, you know, Palestinian food. And some of them, you think you might think, well, why, you know, is this worthy to be like in a cookbook kind of thing where people wonder, like, why is it without bit in there, or why even there's a dish that was more of a, more of sort of, for historical reference, a couple of dishes that you emerged during the years of the Nakba, when Palestinians, you know, were displaced and on the run kind of thing, and unstable. And, you know, there was a few years where they only had access to certain things that were being delivered from various aid organizations. And, and there's a whole genre of dishes that emerged from that era, from that decade. Right. So we do include things like that. And that's why we like to say it's, it's, you know, sort of, uh, a documentary and a storytelling cookbook, you know? ,
Helena Cobban: (40:14)
That's great. Before I come to the next question, I just want to give everybody who's on the webinar or wonderful attendees, three quick reminders. First of all, we'd love it. Of course, if when you get your copy of the book, you could take a photo of yourself or a friend pouring over it or displaying it, cooking from it and post some stuff, some pictures onto Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, please be sure to tag us @JustWorldBooks @TheGazaKitchen and @Gazamom. And I think Laila is @Gazamom and, and Maggie is, sort of social media averse, which is fine. So this Friday, Laila will be doing an Instagram live event at 3:00 PM Eastern with our friends from olive and heart, where she'll be announcing the winners of two giveaways that they're organizing involve in the book. We'll both be doing an online cooking long event with the people at the Museum of the Palestinian People. So check that out as well. There are more Gaza Kitchen events coming along, and I'll tell you about them later, but now back to our star authors, Laila, you've written very movingly about the time you spent in Gaza with the late great food writer and travel documentarian, Anthony Bourdain, could you share a couple of your favorite memories of that trip?
Laila El-Haddad: (42:01)
Oh yeah. I mean, it's again, so true. It's so, so tragic, you know? , but, I will say that, it, I mean, it was really incredible, like everything else to do with the book and the emergence of the book and the evolution of the book, it happened totally serendipitously. And, you know, I would like to think there was no coincidence in life, so maybe it was intended to happen. But you know, the, the, the trip, it took a while, like most people don't realize it took more than a year and a half for that to happen because he was initially in the team with no reservations when they went with the travel channel and were denied a travel permit by the Israelis. And so it wasn't until the show until he moved to CNN and it became Parts Unknown that they then tried again and were given access to Gaza. And, I had to meet them there. And, with, I feel like every time I'm I'm meeting someone or some event around the book happens, I have like a new baby and I just want to share with people. I just have four kids. People are like, how many kids do you have anyway at that point it was Bayan. And, she was like a few months old. And so, and then I had my other daughter with me as well, and I had to take her with me most places, cause she was still nursing. I was exhausted and jetlagged and the whole thing was happening in 48 hours. And I felt like all this pressure to somehow represent and be able to, you know, perfectly represent, you know, sum up everything to do with us is that like, I felt like an urgency, just like everything else related to, you know, Maggie is always saying, you feel like you need to just say everything and day I'm like, yeah, because I feel like there's this urgency, like people, you know, having worked there for years first as a journalist and I'm as Maggie and those who follow know, you feel like you really, you want to scream it out so loud that you want people to understand what's happening.
So I felt like this urgency to be able to encapsulate everything happening and it was done in the most accurate way possible in a way that would resonate with people. And so I was really nervous and he, we met in the city, in front of my house, in Gaza city. And in my mind I was thinking, oh, he's probably going to have this like, you know, like typical of American sort of mainstream presenters or chefs or whatever, this very sort of perverse perverted view of like what's happening. And I'm sure he was shown like the best and the brightest and didn't get to see, so I'm going to have to work really hard to like show him this other side. And like the first thing he says to me, he just, and he has this big security detail and they're like, know, wait over there and, and don't bring your baby with you.
And I'm like, oh my gosh. So, I was really nervous and he just comes striding out and he goes, man, you know, he's like, hi, I'm Tony, it's nice to meet you. And he was like, man, that was some seriously bleep up stuff that's happening over there. I cannot believe what I just saw. And he just proceeds to like, you know, go on and on and on about how messed up everything he just saw. And how it was unbelievable and how his eyes had been opened and how we cannot believe, you know, quote Americans' eyes were not open to this and they weren't seeing this and didn't understand what was happening. It was so obvious. And so plain to anybody who was there so that when you said that, I was like, okay, he gets it. You know, I don't have to do much, you know?
And so yeah, it was just great. It was, you know, I always talk about him being such a, such a beautiful human being, somebody that from the first moment you meet him, you feel like you've known him for years, puts you at totally at ease, makes everyone feel totally at ease, isn't presumptuous or pretentious in any sense of the word, like could sit down with, you know, the most, you know, we sat down with like, Um Sultan when we talked about and her family who he loved. And, and that was great because he couldn't get a word in. It's like every time somebody would keep interrupting and somebody would, you know, and he's like, you know, is this how you guys always are? Like everybody was talking over everybody else and we're trying to feed him like, Um Sultan came as he was fine to ask me some questions.
And she was literally wanting to feed him. And she was like really mad. And he's like, what's wrong? Why she upset? And I'm like, because she wants you to eat. Like you're offending them because you're not eating the food, you know? So he was like, oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. So it was great. It, which I think aroused a lot of people's interests after that. Like they didn't know this thing existed and that was actually an accident we were supposed to go. They had an agenda and I wasn't the fixer. I was just, you know, somebody, they wanted their, that, you know, they had, the producers had this vision of what they wanted. That didn't work out. They were told by the fixer, oh, you have to go see the tunnels and you have to do this.
And none of it worked out like the way they did imagine they were, we sat there for an hour and a half. They weren't allowed into the tunnels. We went to the beach to go out with the fishermen. They were told it was too dangerous and the Israeli Navy might shoot at us. And so then I was like, well, I do have this other suggestion. Do you want to go and like, see, you know, how we make that to Fattit Ajar? And I've actually never seen it made, I would love to see it. So on the fly we went and we sat for what ended up being like eight hours watching the family make Fattit Ajar, which we didn't realize was such a long and laborious affair and Bayan, you know, who was at the time? Was a few months old was like, you know, whaling, but bloody murder.
The taxi driver who's like, I have four daughters. I'm great with girls. Give her to me after like an hour. He was like, I don't know what to do. She won't stop crying. And, and that's the moment where people see him take like a baby and they don't realize that that's my daughter. And he just puts her like right to sleep, you know? So that was one of the most beautiful, beautiful moments I think, you know, , that, and just having episodes on screen and like, you know, you know, Anthony Bordain being like really worried, like why is he screaming? And you know, and he's like, no, no, this is just how we talk. Like we're not, but if it was an incredible experience yeah.
Helena Cobban: (47:51)
Really amazing. And I just love that piece. You wrote about him. It's so sad what happened, but there we are. So on a brighter note, we have some more surprise guests.
Nancy Jenkins: (47:51)
Well, I am frankly, absolutely thrilled to be able to welcome the third edition of The Gaza Kitchen. I think Laila and Maggie have done such a fantastic job. And I know in this third edition, the recipes are going to be delicious and the stories are going to be delightful and often very, very moving. But the most important thing about it for me is the way this represents really a heartfelt tribute to the people of Gaza and to the way they have managed to survive, to persist, to thrive, to carry on and to pass on to future generations, the legacy of their culture. It's just wonderful. Thank you so much, Laila. Thank you so much, Maggie and blessings on you all.
Yasmin Khan: (48:57)
Hi, my name is Yasmin Khan and I'm the author of the Travel cookbooks, the Saffron Tales, and Zaytoun. I'm just jumping on here to say huge congratulations to Laila and Maggie for the third edition of The Gaza Kitchen. It's such an incredible book, which for me just opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of Gazan cuisine. And I can't wait to get the new edition and I urge you all to get a copy.
Helena Cobban: (49:34)
So just a handful from the people who have really been moved and, and informed and touch to the heart by the first two additions to the book. And so it's wonderful to hear from them. So both of you, these are the tough questions coming up at the end. Gaza's 2 million people have lived under a tight siege for 14 years now and have been subjected to four extremely damaging assaults by the Israeli military. In that time you have both spoken about how the resilience and adaptability Gazans have shown under these horrendous circumstances could provide lessons for the rest of the world. Can you say a bit more about that?
Maggie Schmitt: (50:26)
I have sort of two different kinds of responses to that. One of them is just kind of a, to flag the word resilience, because I think indeed, like we can talk, uh, about a prodigious degree of resilience, and that's sort of part of what we, what we hope to, uh, depict in, in the book. And it's certainly what we hope to sort of learn from, from the home cooks of, of Gaza. But also resilience is a word that is more and more in circulation. It's on the lips of every NGO, of every organization of everybody and it really draws my attention. Like resilience seems to be the sort of, you know, Neoliberal virtue of like being able to put up with anything. And, so while we do acknowledge and recognize and should have to be so resilient, it's notable that people start talking about resilience when they stop talking about rights.
And so I feel like we have a sort of a dance to do, like acknowledge, recognize, admire, and learn from resilience at the same time. It was like, we refused to accept resilience as, as a goal or what anybody should have to be like, you have to fight for the rights and, and for a language of rights and for talking about rights and not just like an admiration of resilience that said, I do think that we all have, like in this year of pandemic has taught us the climate crisis is teaching us. Like, I feel like a lot of us around the world are in a sort of sustained panic as we watch the world that we've known or that we took for granted or that we imagined that we might inherit, uh, proving so much more fragile than, than, than we thought. And, and I do think there's much for all of us to learn from, from the people of Gaza, like so many other indigenous peoples and, and people that have had their choices and their life was so ferociously curtailed, by colonial experiences, how does survive and, and not just survive, but to how to, how to continue, how to keep dignity, how to maintain no little spaces of joy and little spaces of, of a life that's worth living.
Despite everything that's going on. And despite not, you know, being able to make choices about the context you inhabit. So part of, I, for me, part of the, the adventure interviewing these people is simply like, teach us, how do you, you know, keep a chin up and keep a family, not only surviving, but, but in some way, flourishing and sane and human and decent in these absolutely demented circstances because the people of Gaza have to have a lot of experience with demented circstances. But, those demented, like the, the depredations of, you know, neoliberalism are eventually bringing some of the demented circstances even to those sort of privileged and white and first world populations. So, we would all do well to learn how to listen to that. I think,
Helena Cobban: (54:12)
I think that's great Maggie, and actually I share your reservations about the whole concept of resilience it's as if you know, people in horrible circumstances need to perform resilience for us white people before we can, you know, admire them rather than like screaming and shouting their hair out and saying, this world is crap, which, you know, it actually is. So yes, Laila, what do you think about that?
Laila El-Haddad: (54:41)
No, it's true. I, you know, I did want to say before I continue that, uh, you know, I'm sure some of you might've heard, but Israel has resumed bombing of Gaza as we're talking right now. But yeah, but I mean, it's, it's true. It's it's as though, and I think it's always a struggle because well-meaning people and we talk a lot about this often depict Gaza in a way that that is unintentionally dehanizing or strips it of its humanity by suggesting that like, you know, and it's hard because it's, it's because like, how else do you describe them? But then you often hear these caricatures of like, you know, hyper symbolism. And that was a, you know, like full of, you know, heroes and, and incredible. And like you were saying resilient and always, and brave and great, and always able, like, no matter what never quashed and, you know, and meanwhile, everyone is kind of in us is like doing a collective eye-roll like, we didn't ask for this, like, we don't want this, you know, we didn't sit here and plan out, like we are going to be brave and we are going to be, it's almost like it's when you're faced with these dire circumstance.
I mean, it's partly on the other hand, like historically, but that's, that has been a thorn in the side of like every meeting army for like Alexander the Great to, you know, but, but it's, again, it's not like they sat here and said, bring it on, like we're, you know, and so this is a thing, right? And it almost creates this vicious cycle where they're like, oh, they can handle it, like the whole mowing the lawn. Oh, they're fine. They're, you know, that's just like the symbol of all of, you know, Palestine it's like, they're there, but again, it's, it's people, there are, you know, there are han beings and that, that sort of just allows them natural human emotion behavior. So if they were like you were saying to scream or get upset, or maybe sometimes, you know, I saw all of these really horribly sad accounts of children saying to their mothers, like during the last round of, you know, but like, we're supposed to be brave, but I'm not brave because I'm crying or something it's horrible.
I mean, you know, it's okay to cry. It would be upset or be, you know, especially if you're a child. So, you know, it's, it's hard, it's like this new, like, so how do you then depict, uh, people or be able to narrate their story in a way that is that preserves that like humanity, you know, is always like something where we're like, I understand like aid organizations need, need their donors. And they're always, I always cringe when I see some of these like ads on YouTube that pop up for different relief organization is depicting, you know, crying children and wailing women and like demolished buildings, which like, yes, that's part of the story, but really it's not, not even remotely the full and that's kind of what we were trying to show in the book, but, you know, again, how do you do that in a way that's like not exaggerated and not dismissing the realities, but you know, that's always like that.
My struggle is, sometimes people just want you to, you know, talk about like, if I'm invited to speak, talking about how horrible things are, right. Talk about like the most harrowing stories. And I'm like, actually the stories that resonate the most with people aren't necessarily the ones that are quote unquote the most horrible, like people in bombed out buildings. It's actually the ones where, you know, in ordinary circumstances where families are struggling and, or doing mundane things, despite all of this, you know, demandingness that night he was talking about, and I think people forget that. They forget that despite, you know, the latest round of, you know, bombings on the Gaza or the 10th year of blockade families, you know, they're having children and they're sending their kids to school and they need to figure out what the assignments are and they need to figure out how to put food on the table.
And, you know, increasingly that food on the table is becoming less and less, you know, resembling less and less what the traditional cuisine was like, like as I was to discover every time I go back to the desert. So to me, those tell a more interesting story, and not to use the word story to kind of, but they tell a more complete, I should say, story and really help us understand it in a way that isn't just, you know, sort of a fable, right. I don't know, lack of a better word.
Helena Cobban: (58:50)
I think you expressed it very, very well. You know, we're coming up to the one hour mark here and I, with everybody's permission, we'd like to go for a further 10 or 12 minutes because we have one more question and, I'm hoping we will have a couple of questions from the audience. , so let's just do the last question. Laila and Maggie, what hopes do both of you have for Gaza's people now and how can those of us who live here in North America help?
Laila El-Haddad: (59:28)
I mean, I I'll just start while Maggie thinks and ponders, Maggie is always the more articulate one, so I'll leave it to her, but, sometimes I just blabber away and then sometimes I hope that something, I say that there'll be a great of like, you know, sense at all. But, anyway, really, I mean, it sounds crazy, but, but I feel like I've become more hopeful, not less. You know, only because again, it's, if you look sort of in the past three decades, go back to watch clips of like Edward Said talking, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no hope where we've been trying to say the same message for X number of decades, but really like, just on the whole, if we're talking just about Palestine on a whole, not even as a specifically, like there's been, I feel like we've huge strides in terms of just the change in the discourse and like sort of name recognition.
And it sounds sort of very trivial, but it's also incredibly important, in terms of like, you know, Palestine, Palestinian people and Palestinian struggle, and even just in the past year alone, I mean then the 10 years of, of the book is existence. I feel like there's been also incredible strides made in terms of getting, not just like the idea of Palestine, but like Palestinians and the Palestinian existence and story and struggle in all its different dimensions, right? Not just like the strictly political has suddenly is now on people's radar, people who would have never been there before, which is very encouraging to me. And, I feel like that's where it starts because the change will not always, almost never will come from centers of power or just from the strictly political, it comes from all of these other peripheral areas.
And just in the past year and the past few months, like it's really been, you know, alarming in a good way. Like the guys’ fish shack, alarming that we talk about in the book, how many, like more people I've discovered that are suddenly tuned into the travesty, you know, that is happening, and so that, to me, that's encouraging because that's what we want and there's, there has been a shift in terms of describing and in terms of as a specifically, I mean, it's unconscionable to me, I just sound like when will you know that, that it's still, this is maybe the part that I'm not as encouraged, that it's still acceptable to the worlds, like powers are the powers that be, and the regional powers to continue to just in whatever shape it's taking. It's, it's, you know, tweaked a little bit here and there.
So it's more acceptable and palatable to a wider audience, but that there's still this blockade on us. So like, that's what I'm just really like, how is this still piling on, you know, how is this any sense considered? Okay. You know, , that to me is probably the most heartbreaking part because I see the actual, the real effect, you know, the tangible effects it has on people every time I go and it's heartbreaking and it's not just, I know we talk about the food and that is a significant part, you know, but it's not the food per se, but it's the effect it's had on, people's just the grinding effect it's had on their livelihoods, you know, and their access to those ingredients and their inability to cook like fish, every family I talked to when I went last time, had fish once in the past six months.
I mean, think about that for a second. You know, I mean, to me, that's the real, the real travesty beyond the half of the population, that's under 25 that can't travel that can't, you know, communicate, I mean, not communicate, but rather, you know, physically leave, you know, exchange with the outside world, like how is this still allowed to happen? You know? But again, that pushes me more to being able to say, and this is why we need to continue to highlight, you know, as the, in every way that we can.
Maggie Schmitt: (01:03:21)
I think every, all the Palestinian commentators about what's been happening in the last month or so are quick to point out. And I think it's very important or relevant is that like for once all of the incredible, like the, the strategy has been for such a long time to make the Palestinian population, to, to separate the different sectors and, and give, uh, Palestinians living within the 48 lines within the occupied territories within the refugee camps and in the surrounding countries, within the diaspora abroad within Gaza, entirely different political realities, such that that's almost impossible for them to recognize each other, or even like enter into a meaningful dialogue about what to do, because their circstances that materially and politically are so different and the big breakthrough of recent months has been this sort of concerted effort. And I think that has a lot.
I mean, I don't know, but I suspect that might have a lot to do with connectivity. I mean, here we are all having a seminar and I'm in Spain and Laila's in Maryland and Helena’s in DC. Like we can start to have conversations and we can start to build things despite physical blockade. And I think that's extremely hopeful because until very recently, the sense was that like Gaza is this like really big problem that kind of nobody wants to deal with. And while on the one hand, Gaza is sort of the, like the whole Palestinian situation in a microcosm, it's an illustration or a reduction of the whole Palestinian conundrum in Gaza at the same time, like the sense has been often that everybody's kind of leaving Gaza out cause no one knows what to do about it or, or, or how to confront it.
And, suddenly that feels really different right now. So I would definitely say that who knows where this is going, like, who knows how the, I suspect there are several more turns, many more turns of the screw to come that we can't anticipate, or I certainly can't. But I think it's very hopeful to see one as, as Linda said, like the, the discourse has changed in the states, the discourse is changing enormously. There's a generational difference that suddenly that suddenly connecting Indigenous struggles, Black Lives Matter, like they're relating the Palestinian things so that it's not some isolated reality that it's, it's connecting itself strategically analytically, I don't know, in, in, in every different way to other, uh, things happening in other parts of the world and closer to home in the United States. And, and I think there's a, there's a generation of American Jews that are no longer willing to accept that they're like necessarily bound to Zionism.
And I think that, I think they're cracks showing up all over the place. So I don't know where any of this is going, but, but things are shifting in, I think, really meaningful ways. In terms of what I would desire for the people of Gaza, a chance to have a life above all, no? And, and a chance to make their own decisions and mistakes. And not under this, just the intensity of the pressure with the physical pressure, the material pressure, the psychological pressure of such a small space. So confined, so, so claustrophobic, it is such a claustrophobic place. And the fact that people are saying it all is, I mean, that's, when we're talking about resilience, it's can you imagine the most claustrophobic situation you can possibly conceive of and then figuring out a way to, like, I don't know, open up a space inside your heart to like continue being human and not simply just go nuts and scream, and that's kind of where they're at.
So like, I would wish them away out of that conundrum. And how can we contribute to that? I think talking about it, obviously, you know, writing to representatives, making a political noise about it, insisting and demanding that this can't be considered acceptable or normal. And, uh, and, and just like insistent, like, I think, I think if there are cracks appearing, it's because people are changing the language they're using and the way this conversation was going and in the United States and especially in the United States, but also elsewhere. And yeah, I think the best thing we can all do is just to talk about it a lot. And, and, I'm sure we can share, you know, resources for, I know the Just World Books page has a lot of information, resources about organizations that if you want to give money, give time, right. Representatives, participate in BDS. There are lots of tools in our hands, but I think above all all change the way we talk about it.
Laila El-Haddad: (01:08:56)
About it. Exactly. One thing that, you know, we've done, I know I've done it here a lot, and now he's done as well is, you know, hosting separate clubs or, you know, often we've had people do this as well, cook something from the book and have like a discussion, invite people who might not be as familiar. I mean, this has proven to be an extremely effective way. People like to eat. Everybody has to eat, you know, and it's in a way that for people who are unfamiliar is like not threatening and not that, you know, but, if they want to engage and understand. Right. You know, so, yeah. But anyway, that works really well, continuous just in the past week, I've done all these requests for, you know, different food related events or pop-ups or something like that, related to 2000.
Helena Cobban: (01:09:43)
So, well, that's great. I love that you guys included in the introduction you wrote to the book, this little quote from Mahmoud Darwish where he said Gaza equals the history of an entire Homeland. It is the brutal lesson and the shining example for enemies and friends alike. I think that's really true.
Laila El-Haddad: (01:10:03)
Yeah. And it's a fantastic poem for those who wants to read the entire poem. It's called Silence for Gaza. You know, it's funny talking about discourse, I'll just share this one anecdote. I was listening to The Daily, on my picking up my girls from school, the New York Times radio magazine, and they were interviewing the New York Times bureau chief in Beirut about what was happening. The whole episode was just trying to understand the conundrum that is Gaza and why, and the host kept saying, I don't understand why they're so concerned about what was happening in Jerusalem. Like you just kept saying this and the bureau chief was entertaining this like, yeah. I mean, that's a great question. Like, why are they who, you know, it's still far away from Gaza, like why? And I'm like, but this is unbelievable. But to your point, and I get about this, this, you know, both actual and, and psychological, you know, separation or, you know, pushing this narrative of like Gaza is a separate thing from Jerusalem for the West Bank, from Palestinians of 48, that they're not all part of like one shared experience or one struggle was very evident just in that conversation.
Helena Cobban: (01:11:18)
So now we do have a few people who have said that they want to ask questions and if anybody else does, could they put that into the chat? The first person, and I don't know who is still on, on the, uh, webinar, but, Magda Campo, if you're there, we, actually, Amelle can make you give you video. Okay. So Magda.
Magda Campo: (01:11:49)
Hi, sorry. Can you hear me? Congratulations, I want to say. And I want to thank you, Laila and Maggie for writing the very first cookbook about the Gaza Kitchen, because my husband and I, we teach at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and we started the using your first edition as soon as the book appeared in our course titled, Religion, Food, and Culture of the Middle East. And you gave us the right exact way to diffuse to the students on campus. So we have about 40, 45 students for that course every winter that Palestinians are human beings. And through food, you can understand their conundrum and their problems. So my husband gave the lecture twice on Monday and Wednesday. And on Friday, I give the lecture in addition to demonstrating one of your dishes from that cookbook.
And we have been doing this since 2013 until now. So we have ordered the Third Edition, and of course, we asked the students to buy, of course, the book. And my question to you is, and it made people understand more and more who Palestinians are through their food and brought it more home to make them think that they are han being like everybody else. Well, my question to both of you is what is the third edition bringing more than what the previous two editions did not bring? I understand that it happened at the time of another vision and less food entering through Gaza and all that. So if you can just tell me exactly what the third edition is adding to the two. Thank you.
Laila El-Haddad: (01:14:17)
Well basically, thank you so much for that, reflection that's really touching and so incredible. I would love to, you know, hear, you know, the reaction of the students or what they've learned, or, I mean, that's, that's just really amazing that you do that. So thank you, for the third edition, basically it was the, you know, the, the time was right to, it was actually way before these attacks that the idea came to update it. The printer, I guess, the previous edition was, uh, was about to be out of stock. And so Helena had said, you know, if you had any updates, this would be the time to do it. Unless you just wanna, you know, continue to print the second edition. And so I had just been to Gaza with the World Food Programme. And so we figured the time was right to be able to update, to fix a few things, to add a few new recipes to update the references, and you know, some of the pictures and so on. I don't know if you had anything else to add.
Maggie Schmitt: (01:15:26)
Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, or I don't know how to say fortunate and well, first of all, like how amazing that you're teaching this book, it sort of takes my breath away. Like every time we hear that someone uses it for something real like that, it's really exciting and moving and amazing. And I'm so glad that the book has a chance to do that service. And I'm so grateful that people are finding it useful in that way. So that's amazing and wonderful. The book was already in, like, it was physically being printed on paper as the bombings were happening. So it doesn't include anything about this most recent moment. , and we had a big debate amongst ourselves about whether we should go through and like try to update all of the information about, you know, most of the, the text boxes, you know, the book, it has text boxes about the situation of, you know, nutrition and food distribution and water availability and that kind of stuff.
And most of that is based on the interviews and the data that we collected in 2010 by now things have changed tremendously. So with each edition of the book, to some extent, we've tried to update that information. But to some extent, we recognize that, like, we couldn't get back into Gaza, even if we desperately tried to, and therefore would like, we couldn't have those one-on-one conversations. We could gather the same information from geisha and other, other, you know, information sources and NGOs and on the ground journalists. , but does that make sense? We decided to leave it as like a snapshot of Gaza in 2010 at the height of the, uh, so it's kind of in between like the, we add sort of a coda to each one of these saying, like what's changed since 2010, , in general, sadly, it's always, the things have gotten much worse, like with, with some few exceptions, you know, more trucks come and go than they did in 2010 now, but the water system is, has been just heinously, uh, damaged by these successive incursions since then, , the, the general sort of status of nutrition access to, uh, you know, the, the, the viability of the economy and people's autonomy in terms of access to food.
All of these things have just like nose dived since 2010 and already in 2010, it was awful, but we don't go into great detail updating those, but we do provide sort of a little coda on each one of those talking about the changes since that moment. And then there's a, uh, a little summary of Laila, Laila did go in to accompany the World Food Programme in 2019. So that provided her a certain degree of a, sort of an updated, like sense of what's going on in Gaza and what it feels like. And a number of conversations with, you know, she mentioned the conversation with the daughter of the former minister, but also little updates that we've gotten through communications with a lot of our protagonists. So, so we, uh, it's, it's updated, but only minimally. So, and then we wrote a new introduction just because we had been layering on one introduction after another and it was getting a little ridiculous.
Laila El-Haddad: (01:19:29)
I know that Kadima is a really good friend of mine. She used to live here in Maryland and we were like best friends, our kids grew up together. And then she moved back to Nigeria three years ago, but I know she mentioned it was like midnight there, so I'm not sure she's here.
Helena Cobban: (01:19:51)
Yeah. Oh, that's so sad. I mean, we've had people on here from so many different parts of the world. I think we'd probably better at this point, just invite each of you to summarize quickly what you want people to take away, and then I will do some corporate stuff and then we have a little exit slideshow. So, Laila, would you like to summarize what you want people to take away from this very short?
Laila El-Haddad: (01:20:23)
I mean, I, you know, said what I have to say basically, you know, as I always say to people, you know, buy it, gift it, cook with it, you know, I always say like, you know, read, cook, think, repeat, you know. I'm still continuously surprised every time I cook with it. Like, is this going to work? Is this not? You know, I'm always doubting myself, but it's, I'm always really encouraged and excited every time I make something and I'm like, wow, this is really amazing. The flavors are unique, they're different, they'll help you, you know, retain and understand Gaza in a different way.
Helena Cobban: (01:21:05)
Maggie Schmitt: (01:21:09)
Likewise, thank you all for being here with us and I, yeah, I like the read cook, think repeat, that's a, that's a pretty good slogan to take away. And, yeah, I think as we were preparing for this, for this launch and sort of trying to think about how to frame, you know, the relevance of this book now, when we wrote it, it was really out there. Like it was hard to find a publisher because we were saying that, you know, we wanted to write a, uh, cookbook about Gaza and the cookbook publishers didn't want to touch anything about Palestine, because it sounded really dangerous. And the, and the political, uh, publishers didn't like a cookbook, or really it's sort of like frivolous ladies' stuff or something. So, many infinite and ongoing thanks to Helena for her, uh, accompaniment through all of these years and her, her recognition of, of the interest of this book from the get-go.
But since then the field has changed enormously since then, there's been this explosion of Palestinian cookbooks and in general, the sort of intersection between food and politics and looking at food systems as a way of understanding, sort of, looking at food as a way of talking about food systems, which in turn talk about politics, economics, labor conditions, ecological issues, all of that stuff that, that kind of gets consolidated in, in food systems. Uh, that's become much more, uh, you know, par for the course kind of that's, that's become more of a thing, in a way that was maybe just beginning when we, when we wrote this book, 12 years ago. So it's really pleasing and gratifying to see that it's still relevant. It starts to feel kind of like a grandma book like that, like, like that it's, it's spawned this whole, I dunno, I wouldn't have spawned it.
It's, it's, it's somehow contributed in the mix to a whole lot of, a lot of other work on this, and I think that's great. So they go out and do research and write books cause, uh, cause it's been so hugely satisfying to us. I think to see that it's, it's made its little contribution and it's had its little impact and it's allowed something of a ripple effect. And, and the best thing I think that can happen is that, these kinds of studies can, can proliferate and make more and I don’t know, I don't know where I'm going with this, but uh, thank you all very much. It's kind of amazing to us, I think, that this book continues to find a home.
Helena Cobban: (01:24:17)
Maggie you've done amazingly well, considering you're with us from Spain and you're still alive and you're awake. As the bonafide grandma in the group here, I'll say I love the idea of you guys being the grandmas of a whole series of kind of Palestinian things that have happened since, I'm afraid we're going to have to wrap up now. Quick reminder about the Instagram live event with Laila this Friday at 3:00 PM Eastern and the Museum of the Palestinian People event with a cook-along on Sunday at noon Eastern. Also coming up soon, our Just World merch store so that you can buy some of your favorite images from the Gaza Kitchen printed on two mugs. It's coming up on our merch store soon and the Gaza Kitchen tote and various other totes, mugs, aprons, t-shirts so that you can share your Gaza Kitchen pride. The store is not quite ready yet, so for now we ask you just to please buy the book, recommend it to your friends, give it to your friends, buy lots of copies.
And now of course, my big thanks to my colleague Amelle, who behind the scenes has done an amazing amount of work for this launch and my heartfelt thanks to you, Laila and Maggie for being with us on this whole journey for, well, I mean, I, I joined your journey, but still thanks for having me along. So now buy the book, people! Follow us on social media. I look forward to all of us staying in touch as we work together to build a more just and peaceful world. Signing off now I'm Helena Cobban for Just World Books. Stay well.
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