Conflict at the Kitchen


Maya Lapp

The Conflict Kitchen is a small takeout restaurant originally opened as an art project from CMU. It serves only one meal at a time, picking the ethnicity of the food from a country that the United States is in conflict with. Every few months the Kitchen changes to a new country, not only familiarizing people with the countries food and information on the current conflict but also with the traditions, culture and political background information. So far they have expressed the views of Iranians, Afghans, Cubans, North Koreans, and Venezuelans. The food comes wrapped in a paper that has interviews and articles written from the country’s perspective printed on it.

The most recent identity the Kitchen has adopted is that of the Palestinians, and it has raised heated objections from a section of the Jewish community, namely B’nai B’rith International. B’nai B’rith International is one of the oldest Jewish service organizations in the world. Its goal is to combat anti-Semitism and unite the Jewish population. Last year the Heinz Endowments provided a $50,000 grant to The Conflict Kitchen in order to support their relocation from East Liberty to Oakland. B’nai B’rith wrote a heated letter to the Heinz Endowments, questioning why the grant was given when “the work of Conflict Kitchen is antithetical to the stated mission of The Heinz Endowments.” The anger was directed at the “anti-Israeli” writing that was included on the food wrapping.

In response, the Heinz Endowments stated that they were not supportive of the anti-Israeli sentiments. However, John Ellis, the Heinz Endowment’s senior director of communication also stated that, “There is another major issue at stake here concerning the rights of arts organizations to perform edgy and provocative programming. That, in many ways, is the role of the arts, and while we may not always agree with the positions and opinions they express, we do support their right to express them.”

The Pittsburgh Police Department received death threats directed at the Conflict Kitchen because of the “anti-Israeli” attitude of the restaurant. This caused the Kitchen to close for a few days, fearing for the safety of both employees and patrons. The details of the death threats were not released to the public, but we were told that they were investigating the source of the threat.

Monday, November 10th around 200 people gathered in front of the Conflict Kitchen to express their support of their mission. These included students from Pitt and CMU, locals as well as travelers as far as Ohio. There were even some from the Jewish population who came to support the cause. Some people came in support of the Palestinian’s plight, some because they loved the Kitchen’s food, but the majority because they supported the Conflict Kitchen’s right to free speech and the fact that it “it also opens people’s eyes to things they wouldn’t take the time for,” as Josch Kenerson, a sophomore at Pitt said.

After the Kitchen let out a statement saying it would reopen the next Wednesday, a CMU spokesman also showed their support for the cause. “Carnegie Mellon University supports all forms of freedom of expression… The university respects the rights of those involved, as well as the rights of others to express their disagreement. Controversial expression and resulting debate are fundamental elements of democratic society and are at the core of our academic mission.”

The heads of CMU Art School also later stated that, “Art often challenges assumptions or illustrates alternative points of view; it can incite passion and spark reflection and reconsideration of long-held beliefs or positions.” They also expressed their strong disapproval of the death threats that were made.