The Hummus Wars

Finally there’s a Middle East war we can enjoy.

Last January Israeli chefs cooked up a five ton plate of hummus, that otherworldly combination of garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, lemon, salt and the secret ingredient.  The dish entered th Guiness Book of World Records as the largest.

This week, chefs in Lebanon fought back.  In a village about 5 miles east of Beirut, 300 chefs came up with a dish weighing 11.5 tons, CNN reported.

This is a good sign for all of us interested in Middle East peace and appetizers.  There is no better proof that Israelis and their neighbors have more in common than their history of war and conflict than their mutual love of the same food.  Sharing the same food isn’t sufficient to keep people from killing each other, but it’s a good place to start building on commonalities, rather than differences.  If food can lead us to God, it can also lead us to peace.  Arguments over who invented hummus and falafel rarely end in blood.

And these hummus wars provide a good jumping off pointb for deeper truths about today’s Middle East:

1. Lebanon is making a major push to reach the West for investment and tourism.  It is trying to refashion its image in the States in a big way—including several pages of advertorial insert in last week’s Newsweek.  What says “Welcome!” more than a big plate of hummus?

2. Israelis have long seen Lebanon as a natural partner for growth and cooperation.  Both are small countries with an educated, Western-oriented, diverse and ambitious population. In Shimon Peres’ Middl East pipe dream, trains would run from Tel Aviv to Beirut, creating an international corridor of trade, development and culture.

3. Lebanon and Israel share an entrepreneurial, outward-looking spirit.  It’s not a coincidence that they both see the internationla potential of hummus.  The dish has been around thousands of years, but it was the Israelis who jumped on the idea of making it an international brand.  Sabra?  Tribe?  Miki?  Israeli.  I suspect they’ll get competition sooner rather than later from Lebanon.

Meantime, here’s an even deeper truth: you can make your own hummus that tastes far better than the packaged stuff.  Just don’t use canned chickpeas.  Here’s the recipe.

“What we have been trying to do is just what the Greeks have done with feta cheese,” said Fadi Abboud, president of The Association of Lebanese Industrialists.

The Israelis have a different point of view.

“Trying to make a copyright claim over hummus is like claiming for the rights to bread or wine,” said Shooky Galili, an Israeli whose blog, dedicated to all things hummus, bears the motto “give chickpeas a chance.”