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Food fight in a Yale dining hall: Couscous or ‘Israeli couscous’?

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Long before the Israel-Hamas war, food fights were boiling over between diners, chefs and restaurateurs about the provenance of Middle Eastern food. 

An appearance by an Israeli chef at a hip wine bar in LA in August prompted social media comments like this: ​​“What will they be serving? Colonized hummus and apartheid falafel?” 

The Israeli-British celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi has said Israeli food is “deeply rooted” in Palestinian cooking. Israel-born Jewish chef Ora Wise also takes the “hummus wars” seriously: “We’re not talking about some just trivial squabble over ownership. What we’re talking about is one people dominating another people.”

So a stew at Yale University over whether Israel gets credits for couscous became a veritable food fight when it bubbled up on social media. 

It started Sunday, when Yale student Sahar Tartak wrote on the social media platform X that the “years-old, popular ‘Israeli couscous salad with spinach and tomatoes,’ has been renamed in our dining halls as the same exact dish but without the word ‘Israeli.’” 

11 million views on X

The post got 11 million views and thousands of retweets and likes.

Suggesting that the word ‘Israeli’ was removed in capitulation to anti-Israeli sentiment related to the war, Tartak wrote: “It’s the subtle changes and redactions that are the most pernicious.” 

Tartak also tagged President Joe Biden, Elon Musk, CNN, The New York Times and other celebrities, media outlets and politicians, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, who made headlines last week grilling the presidents of MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in Congress. 

Then on Tuesday, another Yale student, Viktor Kagan, posted a photo of a sign for the salad from one Yale dining hall showing that the sign actually did include the term “Israeli.”

My tweet is to ensure that we don’t use provocative stories to stir the pot on hatred — I am a Jewish student who hears ab small cases of Antisemitism & other hate that don’t receive any attention cuz of false outrage on issues like ‘canceling’ food,” he said. “Facts matter.”

Tartak followed up by saying that the dining hall “changed it back after being called out and contacted by Jewish students.” She also posted before and after photos showing the sign with and without the term “Israeli” over a steel tray of salad.

“Here’s the before/after, so that no one is misled,” she wrote. “The change was made, then undone upon outreach from Jewish students. Dining administrators emailed me this: ‘Considering it is the main ingredient, it is appropriate to remain in the title, and we will correct this oversight.’” 

A spokesperson for Yale, Karen Peart, confirmed the comment from Yale hospitality administrators quoted by Tartak, adding that “principles of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging are values that we are and continue to be committed to.

In fact, couscous and Israeli couscous are two different foods. Regular couscous originated in North Africa and consists of tiny pellets of semolina. Israeli couscous, sometimes called pearled couscous, has bigger granules and is a type of pasta, originally called p’titim when it was first developed and marketed in Israel in the 1950s

Angry responses about the war

While the controversy might seem like nothing more than a tempest in a teapot — or a salad in a steel tray? — it comes amid a surge in antisemitism and antiwar activism at universities nationwide. Officials in New Haven, Connecticut, are also investigating the draping of a Palestinian flag over a menorah in a public square not far from the Yale campus. 

Tartuk’s post also unleashed a torrent of anger, sarcasm and emotional responses related to Israel’s war in Gaza, which Gaza officials say has killed more than 18,000 people. 

“1- I’m so sorry. I hope you can survive this, it sounds worse than bombs killing children. 2- Who names a salad after an apartheid state,” wrote one commenter.

“Imagine caring this much about salad while thousands of children are being murdered,” wrote another. 

“Yikes, that’s horrible,” said another. “Now imagine losing 23 members of your family in one Israeli airstrike.”

The post Food fight in a Yale dining hall: Couscous or ‘Israeli couscous’? appeared first on The Forward.

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