Events | Falafel: Give Peas A Chance

Check it out this Saturday August 4th on CBC television at 7PM.

Can this yummy snack bring peace to the Middle East?

Whether one is in Egypt, Israel, Syria or Palestine, falafel is the fast food of choice in the Middle East. This humble sandwich made of fried balls of chickpeas or fava beans is so ubiquitous in the region that there is uncertainty over where it originates. But when falafel was declared “Israel’s national snack”, a furore arose over what was seen by many as an Israeli appropriation of an Arab dish.
Montreal filmmaker Ari A. Cohen was inspired to make a documentary about this common food when he saw a postcard depicting an Israeli flag stuck in a falafel. “I couldn’t believe that politics had transferred over to food,” he says. “At the same time, I realized that looking at falafel – a food enjoyed by Muslims, Christians and Jews – would give me a window into understanding the situation in the Middle East. As falafel is mostly a street food enjoyed by ordinary people, I knew an examination of it would give me a perspective of things at an everyday, street level”.
In the film, Cohen travels around the Middle East and among the Arabic/Jewish diaspora to understand Middle Eastern identity and the history of conflict in the region by talking to people connected to falafel. Everyone has a story to tell; a Palestinian chickpea farmer who is being forced off his land, an Israeli falafel stand owner whose business was targeted in a suicide bombing, a restauranteur who relocated his family from Lebanon to Paris to get away from the politics and fighting. Through it all, Cohen gets to eat some of the best falafel in the world (and he did eat hundreds of falafels in the making of the documentary), while the film presents a compelling picture of place, people and history.
What becomes clear as Cohen explores the world of falafel is most people’s desire for peace. In contrast to Israeli/Arabic competitions (like for the record of the world’s largest serving of falafel, currently held by a Lebanese chef at 5,173 kilos), an Israeli and a Palestinian chef cook together as a peace effort and train young chefs to do the same. Cohen acknowledges that falafel alone won’t bring about peace, but by making it clear that the ancient dish belongs to everyone, Falafel! Give Peas a Chance explores the possibility of seeing commonalities as a way towards co-existence, mutual recognition and reconciliation.

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