Ep. 017:  Kamal Mouzawak

Show Notes

Kamal Mouzawak: “Make Food, Not War in Lebanon”

Kamal Mouzawak’s business card says “Make Food Not War” He is aptly described as an Arab world social innovator

Sabah Alkhyr – Good morning, which literally means “morning of blessing”

Kamal created the first farmers market in Beirut Lebanon — Souk El Kayeb which means “the market of good”,

Kamal grew up in the midst of the Lebanese civil war and so knows first hand about what kinds of actions can build peace.

Susan met him at the Glynwood Center for Food and Agriculture, Glynwood in New York which supports local farms throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond.

At Glynwood, Kamal and women from different villages (fromTawlet- social business where profit is generated to support farmers, cooks and producers) and cooks from the Hudson Valley –served all of us an amazing Lebanese meal – a spread of goat, hummus, greens, taboule and more

Kamal gave a talk at Glynwood and Susan immediately recognized him as someone perfect for this podcast because what Kamal really cares about is bringing people together across huge divides. And, in Lebanon, nothing can bring people together more than land and food, he says.

In the midst of divisive political tensions still prevalent after the Lebanese civil war (1975 to 1990) and continuing conflict between Lebanon and Israel, Kamal began Souk el-Tayeb. Souk el-Tayeb is the first inexpensive organic food market in Beirut, but more importantly, it serves as a platform for the people of Lebanon to forge a unified Lebanese heritage and identity based on their shared cuisine. A place where regardless of the religion or ethnic heritage—Druze, Shiite, Sunni, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Jew—the diverse peoples of Lebanon are united around a food experience.

Lebanon’s tumultuous history of diversity and conflict has resulted in low agricultural production, massive internal migration, inadequate agriculture policies, and ethnic divisions. For each of these problems, Kamal’s approach is part of a solution. Branching from Souk el-Kayeb, Kamal has begun a farmer visit and exchange program, a cultural tourism program, a producer restaurant, educational programming for youth, and inclusive national festivals to promote reconciliation in Lebanon.

While Souk el-Kayeb is based in Beirut, due to Lebanon’s compact size, farmers from the Niha Mountains to costal Saida can join together at weekly farmer’s markets. Additional programs branching from the market, such as the farmer’s exchange program, also

connect farmers from across Lebanon in their own homes, and transnationally with investor networks in London, Galway, Amsterdam, New York, and Latakia. Based on the marked success of Souk el-Tayeb in Beirut, and the impact of its related initiatives in other parts of Lebanon, Kamal is working to introduce producers’ restaurants in Dubai and farmers’ platforms in Saudi Arabia. Using cuisine traditions and customs as a unifying social and cultural catalyst while also empowering and generating income to small-scale farmers and local communities—through food, Kamal is scaling peace in the Middle East.

Kamal says, hopes he can do as much for peace as this suggests. We just try small initiatives to make a difference and to say, “yes, we are different, but beyond differences, we can find common ground that brings us together.”

He believes that the simpler interventions, the easier it will be. As opposed to talking about reconciliation and peacebuilding and other big words, he believes it’s the simple actions that can make a difference.

Susan agrees that simple processes can be the most impactful and sites work of dancers, Open Space Technology, etc, and others that are being interviewed on the podcast.

Susan asks Kamal – what planted the seeds to do this kind of work? He is a son of farmers and producers, so was born between gardens where uncles and grandfather used to work. Kitchens were Mom and aunts cooking to transform agriculture. Very important to understand that milk doesn’t come in a box and grapes don’t come in February out of a plastic bag.

To produce something out of the land is kind of a miracle for Kamal — that you can put a seed somewhere and it will transform into a plant and grow into food – the energy and power of life.

Grew up in Jayita, rural but close to Beirut. Farming used to exist there though not today as real estate more interesting to people unfortunately

Toally Mediterranean, rectangle, very small.

Kamal grew up farming.

Studied graphic design after that, but never worked in that field.

During the war, this very small country was divided into parts and each part inaccessible from the others. Used to have your religion on your identity card so couldn’t pass from one area to another – could be killed or kidnapped because of your religion.

Was weird to many in Lebanon how war just ended. Was end of his graphic design studies. And was working in cultural center.

Born in 69 and civil war started in 1975. Was 5 or 6 when the war started and 20 something when the war ended.

Was protected by it by wonderful parents and kids don’t really understand war. We just didn’t go to school on the days it was really close by. But something weird about it. What is happening. Why is it happening. But you don’t have another reality.

The country divided by political and religious factions. Sometimes Christians fighting between each other, sometimes Christians and muslims fighting together.

There is no reason to fight any war. There was no reason to fight this war. There is no reason to kill or get killed. Life is a wonderful miracle and a great gift and it’s not up to me or someone else to decide when it should end

Kamal was working in a cultural center at the end of the war. It was a big teaching in my life. Impossible to get from one point to another at then in Lebanon. But had people coming from all over to the middle of no-where cultural center. Kamal amazed. Why would these people who had been fighting each other, were now making such an effort to come together.

People would come together — even if very different, would come together around their common ground. Watching this was a great teaching in his life

People coming because just wanted to be together. People coming from all over Lebanon, in regions that were in conflict, killing each other, were now coming together around art and culture. People just wanted to be together

Someone asked me to write a guidebook and toured the country in an old Oldsmobile.

Drove all around the country for two years. Amazed most of all by the people and how wonderful they all were. Very different, but the same. If you come to them with an open heart they would have even wider hearts. And if you come with a gun and aggressivity they would be more aggressive than you. He never experienced animosity toward him from any group. Not even a little bit.

Driving around was a lot about food. Always passionate about food.

As kid amazed that could put ingredients together and make a cake.

The wonder of agriculture through the land – that seeds turn into plants. Oak trees grow into huge trees.

Started travel writing about Lebanon and then food researching. Discovered the “Slow Food” movement in Italy.

Preserving food and drink all over the world. Slow Food is like the “Green Peace” of food and drink, preserving food traditions. Started in Italy and now it has spread all over the world.

Slow food very active in the United States and on the west coast mainly through Alice Waters

Started collaborating with them and learned about macrobiotics, which was amazing for me.

2004 first garden show in Beirut and organizers asked me to take care of the foods section.

About food, the mind, the heart, the belly. People drawn like a magnet.

Created the weekly farmer’s market June 2004 and it has run continuously since then.

Saving traditions, bringing people together and celebrating what can be done by all these people working together.

Susan asks for a specific story

Started the Tawlet (which means table) project — a farmers kitchen – each woman would come and cook her regional food.

Every week a woman would cook from the traditions of her own region or her own village

These were regions who had previously been in conflict.

Tells story of women working together alongside each other for years, but religion had become irrelevant. Didn’t even bother to ask each other which group they were from.

Found common ground beyond the differences they had between them.

Lebanon needs basic human rights that go beyond any religion or group. Really wonderful.

But this is all small. There is no solid base and human rights structure, ethics, that go beyond any religion difference and there really needs to be.

Can’t believe that there is the racial division in the United States in 2016.

About the agriculture revolution – monoculture, chemicals — were supposed to be a miracle but now we understand that it may be good on a quantitative level but big costs on other levels too. Green revolution came out of the military system.

Always optimistic. Have to make the most with what we have.

The lessons learned – don’t let it get to a conflict because once you get there it will be worse and worse. And will have a life of it’s own.

Susan talks about collective trauma

There was a lot of frustration and anger in Lebanon about why it happened, and why it ended. No one understood. There was no healing process.

Nation was angry re why it started and why it ended. And then it just ended. And there was no processing at the end that allowed people to reflect on what happened and why it happened. No reconciliation. No nothing.

We are about trying to celebrate local cuisines and local agriculture.

Working on a project in Armenia, part of the former Soviet Union.

DSCF2669 cc firas suqi.jpg

Trying to build the puzzle of the old Armenia which got disrupted though the diaspora through the cuisine of each region. Cuisine is a simple and very powerful expression of a tradition.

The United States is essentially a food melting pot of food and tradition.

Melting pot, or salad bowl in that comes together but distinct

What’s supporting the Armenian project – food and agriculture is an expression of identity. Happening because of some people’s desire to work around identity and food is how to reach him. Many press articles here

What he hopes people will do is perpetuate their traditions with their food.

Kamal last words is the Gandhi quote — “Be the change you wish to see”

Thank God I am not an agent of change like the September 11 people — Wants to bring positive contributions