Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Food Blogger Cooking Through Gaza’s Hunger Crisis

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A young man sits cross-legged on the floor of a tent in the southern Gaza city Rafah, his eyes locked with the camera’s gaze. In swift succession, Hamada Shaqoura arranges a can of Vienna sausages, an onion, a slim loaf of bread, a box of shelf-stable soft cheese, and a liter of long-life milk atop a plank of wood. Soberly, he sauteés the frankfurters and onions on a propane stove and whips up a makeshift mayonnaise. After stuffing the tough bread with these ingredients, he is holding an improvised sub sandwich. The video cuts to a sandy alley, where he coaxes a group of Gazan children to sample his creation. Their faces are cautious at first, evidencing their many months of displacement and war. But with each bite of fresh food, their faces soften, even into smiles. Zakee! Delicious! Hey, give me a bite!

To speak of food in Gaza is usually to speak of starvation and humanitarian crisis. Since October 2023, Israel has intensified its 17-year blockade on the Strip, which was already heavily dependent on humanitarian aid. Despite spectacular levels of outright violence that have left over two million people displaced and over 34,000 Palestinians dead, experts warn that hunger and disease may outstrip bombs and bullets in the number of casualties. Already, top international monitors, such as Oxfam, have declared the starvation in Gaza as the worst on record. Many of these organizations have assessed this crisis to be “entirely manmade,” calling on Israel to permit life-saving food, as well as medical supplies and other essentials, to enter Gaza. These demands intensified after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen. In the face of this backlash, Israel pledged to ease the blockade on Gaza, but experts on the ground have reported little improvement so far.

In the midst of this compounding tragedy, Shaqoura, a 32-year-old food blogger from Gaza City, has garnered international attention for his unorthodox cooking videos. With over 200,000 followers on Instagram, Shaqoura’s jury-rigged kitchen offers the world a glimpse into the scarcity and ingenuity that have come to define Palestinian survival since 1948, when Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. There is something uncanny about the way his clips frame familiar internet trends in a uniquely disastrous setting—as when Shaqoura unpacks plastic-wrapped hauls from the World Food Programme in a wrenching version of the typical “unboxing video,” or when he demonstrates his recipes in bulk proportions for distribution to refugees.

Out of the humanitarian rations he and his community gather by standing in hours-long queues, Shaqoura spins up chicken curry, pizza wraps, and, as he calls it, “Gazan style” tacos. There is a defiant cheerfulness to his posts: “very limited supplies. but still, we do magic, we can make children smile with a simple taco,” reads one caption. The recipes are his personal creations, hybrid dishes born in desperate circumstances, but imbued with dignity, creativity. Through them, Shaqoura seeks to uplift his fellow Gazans and preserve personal and cultural history amid unprecedented destruction.

In an interview, Shaqoura and I spoke in Arabic about what it’s like to access food in Gaza, how he devises his recipes, and the message he hopes to share with every plate.





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