Conflict Kitchen is a very interesting restaurant near Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, which serves food from countries the U.S. is “in conflict with.” The menu changes periodically. It is a very unusual restaurant with an unusual mission, partly funded by The Heinz Foundation, and now controversial, because the focus country is Palestine, which has upset our “friend” Israel. Apparently it is forbidden to attempt to put a human face on Palestinians through exploration of their food and culture.
Controversy over Conflict Kitchen’s focus on Palestinian fare has continued since the menu was introduced Oct. 6, with conservative groups and media now trying to link anti-Israel messages on food wrappers distributed by the Oakland restaurant with Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been leading the American-brokered Middle East peace talks.
In April 2013, the Heinz Endowments, chaired by Mrs. Heinz Kerry, provided a $50,000 grant to Conflict Kitchen, the nonprofit founded in 2010 that serves food from nations in conflict with the U.S. The restaurant is run by Jon Rubin, an artist and Carnegie Mellon faculty member, and Dawn Weleski.
The grant was made to assist in the restaurant’s relocation from East Liberty to Schenley Plaza in Oakland.
Last week B’nai B’rith International assailed the Heinz Endowments for providing the grant. President Allan J. Jacobs and executive vice president Daniel Mariaschin on Friday issued a statement regarding a letter it sent to the Heinz Endowments, “noting that Conflict Kitchen was a deeply unsettling choice for a grant when one considers the work of Conflict Kitchen is antithetical to the stated mission of The Heinz Endowments.”
Post-Gazette writer Melissa McCart approached Conflict Kitchen with a set of questions of which were to be included in this article, published November 6, 2014. Unfortunately, Ms. McCart neglected to include any of Conflict Kitchen’s answers. Additionally, we specifically requested that Ms. McCart include the viewpoints of local Palestinians in this article, as well as her initial article on Conflict Kitchen’s Palestinian version. In both cases, she interviewed and did not include these very important voices.
Below are our responses to several of Ms. McCart’s questions to us, as well as statements made in the article.
MM: How have you responded to the criticism and the letter to The Heinz Endowments? Has there been any talk initiated by The Heinz Endowments of rescinding the grant to Conflict Kitchen?
CK: The Heinz Endowments has publicly made a statement to B’nai B’rith International disavowing their support for our current Palestinian version of the project. A press release posted by B’nai B’rith on their websites claims that The Heinz Endowments stated that this iteration of Conflict Kitchen “appears to be terribly at odds with [Heinz’s] mission of promoting understanding.”
Promoting understanding is at the core of Conflict Kitchen’s mission. We have demonstrated this in the past by presenting the food, culture, and viewpoints of Iranians, Afghans, Cubans, North Koreans, and Venezuelans. We believe that presenting the viewpoints of Palestinians promotes understanding of Palestinians.
Protecting freedom of expression from the influence of biased media and powerful political and lobbying groups is essential for the cultural and political health of a democratic society. We are extremely upset that one of Pittsburgh’s most important arts and culture funders would disavow their grant to us when seemingly pressured by strong outside forces.