Learn more about the man behind the visionary concept "Make Food Not War" in this interview with Kamal Mouzawak. Mouzawak will be speaking at O.P.E.N. Inspiration: Make Food Not War on 7 July at the Malay Heritage Centre.
Image courtesy of Souk el Tayeb
E. Nina Rothe: I know you don’t like labels, and I agree, but how would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
Kamal Mouzawak: I work in human development. People understand real estate development, so I say instead, I work in human development. First of all, me, and maybe then trying to do something with others. For me, life is a journey between point A and point Z, and how I can evolve from one second to another. How did I evolve from yesterday to today...? We have our skin decaying, our cells decaying, but our soul may be better, better with time. This is what I do. What I do practically, I do development projects around food and agriculture. Food activist is not a title I gave myself. It’s something people like to tag me with, but technically, I consider that each and every one of us should be an activist. We are all activists. This is my opinion on life.
In Islam, they say, “each act is an act of adoration”. Being an activist is a positive way of saying that every single thing you do and every word matters. In this current, ultra-divided world of ours, do you think people can find a way to communicate, around a table, with food?
In this current, ultra-divided world of ours, do you think people can find a way to communicate, around a table, with food?
I think it’s the best way to communicate. It is the easiest and the simplest way for people to share something that sustains them. And when you are talking about sustenance, you are talking about trust and confidence, continuity and perpetuance. Food helps you restore yourself, water helps you ground yourself. Food is a great way to express love, emotions. It’s why our mothers and grandmothers cooked for us. They fed us, not only with food but also with emotions. They said through food: “We care for you, we love you.”
I learnt long ago that if you are in the street, in a neighbourhood that is a little bit dangerous, just grab a sandwich and eat in the street. It grounds you and lets other have a different perception of you.
Why do you think the world is so divided right now?
Because we put tags on everything!
But don’t you think we also eat very poorly, in general?
We are disconnected from the origin of food which is the land. There is no connection at all anymore between food and the origins of it, which is the land and the agriculture. Food is just a commodity on supermarket shelves.
Kids think milk comes from a carton and not from something called a cow, with four feet. We are disconnected from the seasons, the producers and the land.
So how do you suggest we solve this?
Just by getting back to reality.
What if you are a modest, city-dweller in New York City for example, how do you do that?
Eat seasonal, buy the least processed possible foods. Buy ingredients. Why do you need to buy TV tray foods? Organic is great but I prefer to buy fresh seasonal non-organic products than, let’s say, organic frozen peas. There is no perfect solution. It’s always the responsibility of the consumer to make the perfect choice every single time. I think each and every one of us can at least buy the least processed food, the freshest possible, the most in season and just eat it. It’s easy. That’s something possible.
Does discipline play a big part in your life?
This is my life. There is no difference between what I do and what I like. I don’t have a hobby. What does “hobby” mean? This is a hobby, now, I’m just talking to you.
This feels like a hobby for me too!
This is our life. Our life is not divided, we want to divide it into sections, “this is work, this is life, this is a hobby” but we are one. I’m going to enjoy what I’m working on, my work is going to be my pleasure at the same time, my friends are my family, this is life. This is what is called Kamal now. All these things, what you eat, what you drink, what you think and what you feel, they are what is called Nina now. I don’t do separation. And I can’t not walk the talk. It’s very important for me. I can’t look into someone’s eyes and lie about something. That’s impossible.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to be?
Here and now.
To someone who is reading this, what would you say is the one thing they should change in their eating habits?
I don’t give a shit about eating habits. I’d like me to change in life habits. Less anger, more trust, I think this is what I would change about me.
Extract of an article originally published online in The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com), April 2016. Reprinted with permission of the original author. For the full article, please visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/e-nina-rothe/kamal-mouzawak-true-renai_b_9679184.html
Fadia Chaptini & Nada Nassar Saber, images courtesy of Souk el Tayeb
Zeinab Harb Kachmar & Mona el Dor, images courtesy of @therecipehunters
Lebanese chef, culinary activist and social innovator Kamal Mouzawak founded the social enterprise and restaurant Tawlet (‘table’ in Arabic) in 2009 in Beirut. At Tawlet, cooks from across Lebanon – from disparate regions, communities and backgrounds – present their regional dishes every day. Their shared hope is to bring people together to the same table, celebrating the country’s varied culinary traditions, cultures and identities. At the same time, the cooks, farmers and food producers are able to earn a sustainable income.
For the first-ever O.P.E.N. Picnic, a pop-up culinary and cultural showcase, four cooks from Tawlet in Beirut will showcase their proud heritage. These are the Tawlet chefs leading O.P.E.N. Picnic:
Fadia Chaptini is from the Lebanese city of Tripoli. A housewife with two children, she says that working at Tawlet and the Souk events has filled her time while allowing her to practise her passion for cooking.
Nada Nassar Saber and her husband Nabil, originally from the vast Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, proudly carry on their rural roots. The couple began a business of processing fruits and vegetables into mouneh (preserves) and fresh juices.
Zeinab Harb Kachmar hails from a small village in southern Lebanon called Hallousiyeh. Known for her smile, passion for her homeland and frakeh jnoubieh (spicy raw meat), she enjoys explaining the traditional dishes she cooks with love.
Also known as Oum Ali, Mona el Dor is from the village of Majdelzoun, south of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon. She has mastered the Lebanese art of Saj baking, defining it as a practice, a balance between perfectly leavened dough and cultivated social skills.