Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel

Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel

Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel

Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel

Synopsis

When people discuss food in Israel, their debates ask politically charged questions: Who has the right to falafel? Whose hummus is better? But Yael Raviv's Falafel Nation moves beyond the simply territorial to divulge the role food plays in the Jewish nation. She ponders the power struggles, moral dilemmas, and religious and ideological affiliations of the different ethnic groups that make up the "Jewish State" and how they relate to the gastronomy of the region. How do we interpret the recent upsurge in the Israeli culinary scene- the transition from ideological asceticism to the current deluge of fine restaurants, gourmet stores, and related publications and media?

Focusing on the period between the 1905 immigration wave and the Six-Day War in 1967, Raviv explores foodways from the field, factory, market, and kitchen to the table. She incorporates the role of women, ethnic groups, and different generations into the story of Zionism and offers new assertions from a secular-foodie perspective on the relationship between Jewish religion and Jewish nationalism. A study of the changes in food practices and in attitudes toward food and cooking, Falafel Nation explains how the change in the relationship between Israelis and their food mirrors the search for a definition of modern Jewish nationalism.

Excerpt

Food permits a person … to partake each day of the national past.

—Roland Barthes, “Toward a Psychology of Contemporary

Food Consumption”

I was halfway through working on my doctoral dissertation at New York University in 2001 when violence erupted in my native Israel and gave me pause: Is it morally justified to be writing about food in faraway New York when Israel is in mortal danger? I could see why most critical writing about the Zionist project emerged only in the past few decades. It is difficult to take a critical approach to a venture that seems to be in constant, real peril, no matter if it is morally justified or not. I overcame my hesitations but have been faced with them again and again in the past several years. When I began this project I thought that approaching the study of Jewish nationalism through food rather than through political conflict might offer new insights. I later realized that political conflict is an unavoidable part of the discussion of any element of Zionist history, even food.

Most discussion of food in Israel in the popular media centers on particular foodstuffs and their implication in the political conflict: Who has the right to falafel? Whose hummus is bigger? I was concerned, instead, with the role food plays within the Jewish nation, the power struggles and moral dilemmas, the negotiation of religious and ideological affiliations of the different ethnic groups that make up the “Jewish state.” How do we interpret the recent upsurge in the Israeli culinary scene, the transition from ideological asceticism to the current deluge of fine restaurants, gourmet stores, and related publications and media? I wish to explore the change . . .

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