Conflict Kitchen, Pittsburgh

A new location on Schenley Plaza will allow for outdoor programming and events associated with a given culinary theme. Courtesy Smithsonian Magazine.

"The Conflict Kitchen is an experiment in mealpolitik," reads the tagline in Smithsonian's coverage of a unique eatery in Pittsburgh. Its rotating menu features fare from countries on tenuous footing with the United States, with prior themes focusing on Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and—soon—Korea.

Co-founder Jon Rubin explains a mission to use "food as a storytelling device," a mandate that deserves mention for its material culture overtones. It would seem that staff travel to the nations in question to conduct recipe research, which they then serve up with a side of awareness. While the restaurant does not coerce patrons into consuming its ideology, it does at times integrate contemporary events with the dishes' presentation.

Cuban offerings, for example, are wrapped in interviews conducted with Cubans living in Cuba and the United States. Conflict Kitchen—right now moonlighting as "Cucina del Conflicto"—makes available on its website links to further resources, as well as information about related events. These involve not only Americans but also natives of the countries in question. For instance, Conflict Kitchen is currently soliciting submissions from Cubans (again, in Cuba and the U.S.) to write a segment of a speech they would like the hear Barack Obama deliver. The resultant publication will be performed on-site by an Obama look-alike this October.

Food, at once a component and an ambassador of culture, can be a valuable and potent tool for education. Even better, this heightened consciousness appears to work in both directions; international visitors have declared that the restaurant changed their impressions of Americans. Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen provides an experiential means of learning about diverse cultures and global strife, while also highlighting the basic need for food—and the culinary appreciation—that link people the world over.

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