Conflict Kitchen: Business as Activism

Conflict Kitchen“What do we want? Sandwiches! When do we want them? Now!”

Businesses are not infrequently the targets of protests, boycotts, and other forms of activism. But what about business as a form of activism?

I’m not just talking about using a market-based approach to achieve certain kinds of social goals, as in various kinds of social enterprise. What about a business whose very purpose is to raise consciousness on a particular ethico-political issue?

Witness Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh take-out restaurant “that only serves cuisine from countries that the United States is in conflict with.” But it’s more than just food: the business is “augmented by events, performances, and discussion about the the culture, politics, and issues at stake with each country we focus on.”

Cool idea. Here are just a few thoughts:

1) Inevitably, there are people who find the idea of highlighting the food & culture of America’s enemies objectionable. See, for example, in the comment section of this page, the claim that those operating the restaurants are “traitors.” I’m guessing that debate over what counts as loyalty, in contexts involving political and military conflict, is just the sort of thing the people behind Conflict Kitchen were hoping for. So, as they say, mission accomplished.

2) Some people may find the mission of Conflict Kitchen offputting in a different way. Maybe they just want lunch, minus the sermon (or even just minus having their consciousness raised). Is there a bait-and-switch, here? Get them in the door by promising yummy treats, and then bring on the politics…

3) Conflict Kitchen also represents an interesting (novel?) way of funding activism. Most kinds of activism rely on donations, and some on tax dollars. Conflict Kitchen says it receives no tax dollars, though it does have a number of non-profit supporters. But its activities are funded at least in part by selling food. I’d be curious to see to what extent the food is subsidizing, rather than being subsidized by, the activism. Other kinds of activism are, of course, funded by selling things. All kinds of groups sell t-shirts, videos, etc., to support their work. But this strikes me as different.

4) I suspect this approach is bang-on correct, psychologically. I suspect sitting down over food is a great way to foster mutual understanding. Unfortunately, I suspect the people who most need it are the least likely to partake.


Thanks to NW for alerting me to this story.

1 comment so far

  1. southwerk on

    I’ve been reading your columns for quite some time now and I never saw that one coming. The ethical implications of (probably in some minds) “enemy” food. I love it. You’re probably right. Those that could use it most are least likely to lunch.
    I’m very fond of food and not afraid to try new things and am well aware that the friends and enemies categories have a tendency to change without noticw. jp


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