Menu Planning: Building Bridges for Peace
May 5, 2005
Subject: an innovative approach to solving conflict
“Dealing with the Israelis and the Palestinians might be the easy part, it's the Americans I'm worried about,” is how I'm thinking this morning. I've volunteered for an interesting job. Next August I will cook for a summer camp comprised of sixty teenage women: a mixed group of Israeli, Palestinian and American girls. It's the Americans that worry me.
Since1994, I've watched as our dear friend, Melodye Feldman, has turned a dream, (which I admit I once considered something of a fantasy) into an inspiring reality. Each summer she brings a load of teenage girls from Israel and the Palestinian territories to the United States for ‘camp.' She brings in American girls as well. Then she helps them learn to talk and listen to each other. She pulls them out of their narrow worlds of hatred, and danger and brings them to the United States . Jew, Muslim, Christian, or Israeli, these girls dumped in America discover they have more in common than they would have guessed. They have the capacity to understand each other and often even to become friends.
Melodye has fancy words for what she does; she didn't get her graduate degree in social work from DU for nothing. When you read the detailed descriptions of her program on her website, it's all about communication skills, opportunities, foundational relationships, leadership roles and other polysyllabic words and intellectual concepts. Let me try to explain what I've seen.
The short term goal is simple. The girls each tell their story and those from the other side learn to listen, to listen well enough that they can tell the story back. No one expects to solve the world's problems in two weeks. No one even asks for agreement. Yet in the lives of these young women, Melodye offers them what may be their first chance at and moving toward a more peaceful future. She also offers them their first romp in a Super Target. Israeli and Palestinian girls are equally blown away.
Almost a thousand girls have gone through this program in the last ten years. Melodye's original organization, Building Bridges for Peace has branched out and under an umbrella group called Seeking Common Ground and now runs similar programs for teens in Ireland , South Africa , Israel and the United States . Participants from the first programs have become leaders for the current programs.
Every time I meet these young women or hear about their struggles and their passion to make a change in their worlds, I've felt something tug in my heart, felt my throat ratchet a bit tighter, and wondered if I couldn't do something to help.
I worked for Melodye in the summer of 1988. Back then she directed the JCC Ranch Camp in Elbert. I was studying naturopathic medicine in Portland , Oregon but had the summer off. Rena Bloom, a classmate and an old friend of Melodye's, ran the camp's kitchen. They offered me a job.
I'm planning menus today. Some of the Jewish girls keep Kosher. Some of the Muslim girls eat only Halal foods. There will be a smattering of vegetarians among these thoughtful young women. The altitude is another factor; no soybeans without a pressure cooker. I can figure this part out.
The girls coming from the Middle East have something in common that they don't realize. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, people still eat real food. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh bread, olives, olive oil, fish, grains and fresh cheeses are the mainstays of the diet. People in our country only aspire to eat a Mediterranean diet. These girls have eaten a Mediterranean diet all their lives. A typical Israeli breakfast includes a cucumber, several tomatoes, olive oil, olives, soft cheese, fresh fruit and perhaps a hard boiled egg. Compare that to an American teenager's diet. Finding foods to satisfy the jaded taste of the American kids may be my biggest challenge.
The “Mediterranean Diet” is the Hot Topic in nutritional research these days. Interest started when scientists were trying to solve the French Paradox. Back when cardiovascular disease risk factors and predictors were first figured out, it was obvious that the French didn't follow the rules; they did everything wrong, ate too much fat, drank too much wine, smoked too many cigarettes and were overweight. Yet the French didn't get heart disease as often as us clean living Americans. This unfairness was dubbed the French Paradox. A number of factors are behind this paradox, the biggest one seems to be diet.
The current research tells us that eating a Mediterranean diet lowers risk for heart disease, [i] rheumatoid arthritis [ii] , diabetes, [iii] metabolic syndrome, [iv] stroke and cancer. [v] These benefits are being attributed to the combination of macronutrients, the types and ratios of fat, protein and carbohydrate, and to a variety of micronutrients found in the foods. [vi] [vii] [viii] Entrepreneurs of course hope to identify these plant micronutrients and bottle them for market. Quercetin, Resveratrol and catechins are all plant chemicals that have came to us through study of the ‘paradox'.
All this is intellectually very interesting but irrelevant. My challenge is simple. How do I feed sixty girls a diet that will keep them all happy? Though I may refer to the program as a summer camp, it's far from a party. They will have a lot on their minds; I don't want them to worry about food. Ideally, I want them to look forward to it.
I can't just cook Middle Eastern food. These kids didn't fly all the way to Colorado to eat Falafel. The menu is going to look very American…..Fried chicken, strawberry shortcake, burgers and fries, apple pie….but hopefully be cooked Mediterranean style. Yet can I capture the taste? Talk to any Israeli or Palestinian living in Colorado and they'll complain that they can't find a vegetable that tastes right. Our stores may offer fresh produce year round, yet it all lacks flavor.
First thing is to forget about frozen entrees, we'll cook from scratch. Second is to double the salad portions. Third, is to supply a few basic comfort foods. For the American girls, we'll always put out peanut butter and jelly. For our real guests, I think this will mean fresh humus, olive oil and pita.
I've got August to figure out how to do this.
I'll keep you posted.
Melodye and her group, Seeking Common Ground, have an excellent website:
1 3/4 cups garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
6 cups water
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/4 cups tahini paste
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Serve with fresh Pita bread
Wash garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and soak in cold water for 24 hours. Place garbanzo beans, with their soaking liquid, in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 hours, skimming off any debris that may surface. Drain garbanzo beans, reserving 1/4 cup liquid, and refresh in cold water.
Process until smooth. Add garlic, tahini, spices and salt, lemon juice and olive oil. Reprocess and adjust seasoning. Serve spread into a pancake shape on a dinner plate. Leave a rim around the edge and pour additional olive oil to form a thin puddle in the center.
[i] Circulation. 1999;99:779-785. Mediterranean Diet, Traditional Risk Factors, and the Rate of Cardiovascular Complications After Myocardial Infarction Michel de Lorgeril, MD; Patricia Salen, BSc; Jean-Louis Martin, PhD; Isabelle Monjaud, BSc; Jacques Delaye, MD; Nicole Mamelle, PhD
[ii] Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2003;62:208-214 An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis L Sköldstam, L Hagfors and G Johansson
[iii] Diabetologia Volume 44, Number 11, November 2001 pages 2038 - 2043 A Mediterranean and a high-carbohydrate diet improve glucose metabolism in healthy young persons F. Pérez-Jiménez1, . López-Miranda, M. D. Pinillos , P. Gómez , E. Paz-Rojas, P. Montilla
[iv] Lipids Health Dis. 2005 Apr 12;4(1):7 Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome; Converting epidemiology to clinical practice. Panagiotakos DB, Polychronopoulos E.
[v] J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;56 Suppl 1:37 -49. Mediterranean food and health: building human evidence. Visioli F, Bogani P, Grande S, Galli C.
[vi] J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;56 Suppl 1:157-69. Transcription factors as targets of the anti-inflammatory treatment. A cell culture study with extracts from some Mediterranean diet plants.
Stalinska K, Guzdek A, Rokicki M, Koj A.
[vii] J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;56 Suppl 1:139-56. Anti-inflammatory effects of extracts from some traditional Mediterranean diet plants. Strzelecka M, Bzowska M, Koziel J, Szuba B, Dubiel O, Riviera Nunez D, Heinrich M, Bereta J.
[viii] J Physiol Pharmacol. 2005 Mar;56 Suppl 1:115-24. Antioxidant properties of Mediterranean food plant extracts: geographical differences. Schaffer S, Schmitt-Schillig S, Muller WE, Eckert GP.