Something’s cooking. Don’t ask me what. Unlike most Israelis, I’m not following it. For it isn’t US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ongoing efforts to turn up the heat and reach a peace agreement that’s on people’s minds here. Judging by the number of reality shows dedicated to the culinary arts, people are obsessing about how to handle kitchen knives, herbs and spices and the myriad possibilities of serving a collection of extraordinary ingredients in one meal.
I don’t really know if this is what people want to see or just the TV diet they are being fed, partly due to the peculiar system of commercial broadcasts here. Different franchises have separate nights on the same channel, hence each broadcaster aims to have its own prime-time show on whatever is the flavor of the season.
Cooking shows don’t work for me. I don’t like cooking. As my sister sometimes points out using a line from the 1990 movie Sibling Rivalry, I defrost. I don’t cook.
I’d rather spend my leisure time reading a good book, chatting with friends, or watching something decent on television (when I can find it. Praise be for public broadcasting – apart from an excruciating local version of Britain’s Come Dine With Me, there are several good news and documentary programs to be found on the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1).
One of the least expected and least deserved compliments I have received in my writing career was the request to contribute a recipe to a celebrity cookbook. I wasn’t comfortable with the celebrity label and it was evident that whoever was commissioning my favorite dish (vegetarian, of course) had never actually dined on anything I had prepared (or defrosted).
I understand the attraction that cooking programs hold for some. Fortunately for me, some of my best friends, unlike me, enjoy preparing meals as much as eating them.
When it comes to the televised fare, they’re happy to feast their eyes and enjoy the food without getting fat. Culinarily challenged, I don’t understand the point of seeing food without being able to smell and taste it.
In addition, too many of the participants seem to be starved for attention. That’s reality shows for you. I’m not the only one fed up with the genre. As one television reviewer noted: You might think competitors had to create their own salt for seasoning given the number of sob stories to which we’re exposed.
Whatever happened to the image of the smiling chef, merrily cooking up a storm? The current crop of contestants seems to be aiming for the sympathy vote, and the programs and weekend papers are full of stories about who overcame the greatest hurdle, trauma or miserable childhood in order to gain their 15 minutes of fame.
Ironically, this week I escaped yet another show – I’m not sure if it was MasterChef or The Game of Chefs, they all look the same to me – by watching the movie Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Novelist Suzanne Collins (no relative, but perhaps something of a kindred spirit) based her Hunger Games trilogy partly on the concept of reality shows taken to their lethal extreme, making it a doubly ironic choice. It was also poignant in view of the tragic, apparently drug-related, death of award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, better known in my home as Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee in Francis Lawrence’s film of the book.
The only bright spot in the local cooking- show fad was the peculiarly Israeli lineup of finalists in last year’s MasterChef series – winner Tom Franz, a German-born Catholic who converted to Judaism, Salma Fiomy- Farij, a hijab-wearing Arab-Israeli, and Jacki Azulay, an ultra-Orthodox woman.
Food for thought for BDS supporters.
MY OWN views on food (and perhaps culture) were formed in part during childhood summer vacations in France. The smell of coffee, especially if there’s a croissant on the plate next to it, still takes me back to pleasant times spent relaxing across the Channel.
It’s far from being bon ton for a British-born and -raised lass like me to admit to being a Francophile, but I’m willing to take my chances.
Or at least, I was. This week it became apparent, yet again, that either the France of my childhood memories was a pleasant illusion – conjured up perhaps by the sun so missing from summers in London – or that something has changed there, and not for the better.
Parisian-born Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem, ahead of a brief trip covering the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund conference in the French capital this week, mentioned the threat of demonstrations outside the venue. Shockingly, I ended up playing a sort of guessing game about the affiliation of the protesters: Would they be one of those strange European hybrids combining the radical Left with fanatic Islamicists and pro-Palestinians? Or was this the province of the fascist far Right? Just a week ago neo-Nazis in Paris had used the social protests to sound their message which included, according to Sellem, the slogans: “Jews: France does not belong to you” and “If you find it hard to breathe, we have some gas for you.” This was not the Paris of my childhood.
This was the contemporary capital – during a week marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
No wonder the Jewish Agency desk at the KKL-JNF event was full of French Jews checking out the possibilities of building a new life in Israel, or at least purchasing a bolt-hole.
Paris is burning.
Over here, on the other hand, when not following reality shows, some Israelis wonder if Jerusalem could be turned into a burnt offering in the latest peace process.
Between Kerry turning the heat up and the Europeans keeping the boycott threat on a back burner, there seem to be too many cooks involved in the Palestinian-Israel peace process.
And that is a recipe for disaster.
I can only surmise that no similar intensity surrounds the efforts to end the civil war in neighboring Syria because diplomats and envoys of all types prefer the food and atmosphere in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, both fast becoming attractive destinations for the gourmet traveler.
Unfortunately, the Europeans and Americans don’t understand just how far back you can trace the origins of the dispute in the Middle East. This is not about 1967 or even 1948 borders.
One of the chief cooks in the Kerry-initiated process is PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, who last week spiced up his life story with the sort of exaggeration that even prime-time TV viewers might find hard to swallow.
According to various media reports, Erekat told Justice Minister and negotiator Tzipi Livni at the Munich Security Conference: “When you say ‘accept Israel as a Jewish state’ you are asking me to change my narrative. I am the proud son of the Canaanites who were there 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun burned down the town of Jericho.”
As he blew his own horn, his claims came tumbling down faster than the walls of the ancient city. It didn’t take long for people to do the math and figure out that if Joshua blew the shofar in Jericho some 3,300 years ago, that would make Erekat’s legendary ancestors date back about nine millennia. According to the Elder of Ziyon blog, Erekat was actually born in Abu Dis, close to Jerusalem, to a family who originated in the Arabian peninsula.
I don’t trust skinny cooks. I don’t trust John Kerry. And I particularly don’t trust Saeb Erekat. But if he’s determined to portray himself as the descendant of pagans overrun by the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land, all I can say is even the most fantastic concoctions sometimes need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.