So today I had lunch at a cool place……. Located near the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, Conflict Kitchen is a nondescript little take-out kiosk with a twist–it only serves food from countries that the US has had a confrontation with.
Conflict Kitchen, in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park
The campus of the Carnegie-Mellon Univeristy in Pittsburgh PA has always had its share of little food kiosks where students and pedestrians could stop for a hot dog or slice of pizza. But in 2010, University art professor Jon Rubin had an idea for combining food with politics–he would set up a kiosk that would serve food from countries that the US was either in a war with or a diplomatic confrontation. The idea, he said, was to “engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of U.S. politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.” Using a grant from The Sprout Fund, a local nonprofit organization, Rubin set up Conflict Kitchen. The idea was that it would serve food from US enemies, with each country’s cuisine lasting six months before being replaced with another.
When it first opened in 2010, the kiosk served Iranian food. That was followed by Afghan, Venezuelan, Cuban, and North Korean food, which was served anywhere from three to five months, and which usually changed according to US politics. And so Pittsburgh residents were treated to everything from kimchee to shawarma to bolani.
In 2012 the kiosk was closed down, with plans to re-open elsewhere as a sit-down restaurant. Instead, the kiosk was moved to Schenley Park, near the University of Pittsburgh, where it re-opened in April 2013, serving Iranian food in commemoration of the Iranian elections.
Conflict Kitchen is now funded partially by the sales of food, and partially by grants from several nonprofit art foundations.
As part of their research, Rubin and others travel to each country, interviewing local people not only about their food, but about their politics, culture, history and economics. (While researching in Cuba, Rubin stopped off at the North Korean Embassy to ask about traditional Korean foods.) So each serving of food from Conflict Kitchen comes wrapped in a paper containing printed interviews with people from that country.
In November 2014, while serving Palestinian food, the kiosk recieved death threats, and was closed down for four days while police investigated. While it was closed, a group of students held a rally to support the restaurant and to condemn the threats. The controversy made the newspapers as far away as London. It says something about the United States of America when the simple act of offering food from a culture we don’t like, motivates people to want to kill other people.
Today at Conflict Kitchen, the menu is Cuban, and includes yuca con mojo (the Cuban national dish), rice and beans, and roast piglet. Me, I had the ropa vieja, which is shredded beef in tomato sauce.