Writing Food: From Kelowna to Gaza

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A couple of weekends ago I had the great pleasure of giving a talk at the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers’ Workshop in Kelowna. Many beautiful meals were consumed, much wine drunk, and many excellent discussions had about food writing, travel writing, and writing in general. In between meals and presentations, we toured Sandhill winery, wandered through an apple orchard, made marmalade, and learned not to hold a knife from the handle. “Food Girl” Jennifer Cockrall-King puts on a helluva workshop.

I was surprised that Jenn invited me to present at the workshop. Although food stories invariably pop up in my magazine work and in my books, I wouldn’t call myself a food writer – at least not since the early 2000s when my terribly dull chef profiles appeared monthly in Avenue magazine. (The less said about those the better.) Then again, my first published magazine articles as a freelancer appeared in Calgary’s City Palate and were about the meals I enjoyed while traveling in Africa in the late 1990s. If I am not a food writer now, I at least started out as one.

And beginning next month, I will be writing about food in Gaza. The main focus of my trip to Gaza is to continue working on my book about the Palestinian literary scene, but I will be also working on a story for the UK’s Geographical magazine about how Gazans feed themselves.

Israel controls imports into Gaza and restricts Gazans’ access to both fishing lanes and agricultural land. I am interested in learning about how these policies affect Gazans at the dinner table. I plan on meeting fishermen who’ve been forced out of prime fishing lanes by Israeli naval forces, and join them on their boats. I will speak with farmers whose long-held family fields now lie off-limits in the buffer zone along the Strip’s eastern border. And I will investigate the seemingly arbitrary list of foodstuffs banned for import into the Strip.

I am especially interested in the ingenuity Gazans display in regards to food. I would like to write about how the blockade has resulted in both urban agriculture and ‘slow food’ movements. Expelled from their fields and orchards, Gazans are raising doves and rabbits on rooftops and balconies, and making preserves that will survive the regular power cuts. Young women are asking their grandmothers who to use old clay ovens that haven’t been used in a generation. I will write about the cheese Gazans make from UNRWA powdered milk rations, how local biologists designed an ‘indigenous’ gluten-free flour to serve the territory’s celiacs, how aquaculture is filling the gaps left by restrictions on fishing, and how the inability to import fertilizer have compelled farmers to go organic.

I’ve traveled to Israel and Palestine several times over the years, but never to Gaza and I’m excited to see the place first-hand. I have a long wish list of people I hope to meet while in the territory, many of whom have already extended a digital welcome and expressed a willingness to tell me their stories. I am excited, too, to return to my freelance roots as a food writer – if only to justify my recent gluttonous presence in Kelowna.

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