Falafel: a Gateway to the Politicized Middle East

Food is often described as a facet which works to bind us together, but it can often be the thing that tears people, and nations, apart. Falafel has a deep, convoluted history which includes where it originated, what ingredients are includes and how it is prepared. Due to its Middle Eastern derivation, I would argue that the process can reflect the regions current political scaffolds.

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Figure 1. The box of Falafel

While I was raised to concoct the spiced chickpea mix from scratch, travelling to the Qoudtz, an Arabic food store located in the east end of Mississauga, provoked a less driven individual which urged me to buy a pre-made blend that only requires you to add water. This sparked a politicized thought as the ingredients were different than what I was raised with in Syria and the United Arab Emirates. We can discuss this and speak metaphorically about the ingredients which structure a Middle Eastern nation and develop either a resilient, progressive state or a country under heavy influence of religious institutions. This refers to countries such as Lebanon and Syria who do not feel religious persecution is an important ‘ingredient’ in maintaining safety and security unlike countries such as Egypt; where Falafel is most suspected to have originated from.  This is important to note as governments all over the region, similar to Chef’s, will regard certain ingredients as more important than others and therefore achieve different results. These have both positive and negative effects on the populace and give off a variety of impressions to other, often more dominating, western societies.

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Figure 2. The coarse material.

The coarse material smoothly pours out of the metallic bag and while I am excited to eat, my mind takes me to a darker space of war and hardship that remains all over Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.  The ease with which chickpeas store and fry make it a near perfect food to eat during a war and I find it paradoxical that those nations who frequently dispute where their native food originated from are also at war and call use for this long-lasting, convenient food.

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Figure 3. Like gravel from a fallen building

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Figure 4. “Just add water”

Unlike traditional practices, the falafel mixture requires half a cup of water with a brief stir and then the waiting begins. This is a key stage in the cooking process as it binds the dry ingredients so they cook flawlessly. This could be seen as the most important stage within a political framework specifically, in the Middle East as it requires patience. This is key to approaching discussions and conflicts in order to achieve an ultimate goal, resolution or compromise. People often play ‘a waiting game’ yet it is often disregarded in both political and culinary fields. Habitually deemed irrelevant, patience is potentially the most important aspect in these frameworks because of it’s evident results. Otherwise stated positive, influential changes do not transpire overnight and in an age of immediate gratification I personally would declare patience as the ultimate quality worth possessing in a government or a kitchen.

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Figure 5. Before Patience

Once the dough is prepared I form the falafel into droplets. While normally I would deep fry them to maintain an uniform sear, this time I place the pieces lightly into a coated pan and smoosh them into burger-like patties. For me this represents the assemblage which must take place to solve broader social or political issues. For the falafel to cook properly it needs to be in smaller portions and the same can apply for region-wide political institutions. Changes do not occur overnight and to implement transformations, one must start on smaller scales.

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Figure 6. Droplets

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Figure 7. The fry

We also need to flip the falafel patties and from a political standpoint this can reflect the requirement for new perspectives on issues, conflicts or structures within the Middle East. Based on preceding lessons, this can refer to how to punish or reward citizens, how to create unbiased borders and even how to communicate with other modern westernized governments.

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Figure 8. After the flip

 Overall while the culinary profession repeatedly provides a near instantaneous gratification, I do believe gastronomy is deeply interconnected with political framework’s and can both metaphorically inform and plainly educate how to understand or address governmental administrative matters; especially those in the Middle East.

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Figure 9. The textured political finale

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