It was the spring of 2002 and I noticed
that many of my favorite restaurants, especially those serving world cuisine
from places like Somalia, Turkey, and Afghanistan were slowly going out of
business. I didn’t know why these restaurants were struggling financially,
especially since we in the Phoenix area, are a hidden gem
of international diversity with large numbers of refugees, international
students, and expatriate workers. Maybe it was the economy, but I had a hunch
that the general suspicion toward Muslims in the wake of 9/11 was negatively
affecting these restaurants.
I wanted them to stay open, partly for the
sake of my taste buds, and partly because I saw these restaurants as embassies
of culture to the common person. In my experience, most people can’t fly 20+
hours on an airplane and spend thousands of dollars to travel the world, but
many people can afford to drive 20 minutes and spend $20 to taste world
cuisine. A restaurant might be the only tangible way many Americans will
experience some aspect of Saudi Arabian, Persian, or Iraqi culture. I began to
reflect on the connection between the taste buds and the heart, wondering if ethnocentric
hearts could be melted by the taste of butter chicken and a short conversation
with the chef. That’s when I gathered with a group of friends, and we came up
with the idea for the Peace Feast.
What is a Peace Feast?
A Peace Feast is an
intentional gathering of friends, much like a dinner club, at an international
restaurant with two goals in mind:
1. To financially bless the restaurant. We try to organize the meals during slow business hours, such as a Monday
evening when they have few customers. Then we pack out the restaurant with
friends, family, people from local churches, etc. to provide one of their best
business days of the year. We all commit to tipping well, and we all take a
moment to get on our smartphones and promote the business through social media.
The night of the event is a financial blessing to the business owners, as well
as the new business that comes from the participants of the Peace Feast, many
of them becoming regular customers.
2. To give people a simple and positive experience with
other cultures. Most
Peace Feasts include some level of cross-cultural experience. Many times it’s
as simple as tasting new food and hearing the restaurant owner tell the story
of the restaurant; sometimes we bring in a speaker for a short talk, and
occasionally we curate art from the country represented.
Many people aren’t
ready for dialogue about complex and controversial issues, but are ready to
engage their taste buds in cross-cultural dialogue. Some people aren’t ready to
use their mouth to dialogue with people from other faiths, but they are willing
to use their mouth for another purpose, such as chewing. It’s not uncommon for
people’s hearts to be softened by baklava
and warmed by fresh naan. The Peace
Feast provides a good first experience with other cultures.
Over the past
several years, people have hosted hundreds of these feasts in places like
Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Raleigh, Seattle, and even Whales. We’ve
seen some encouraging fruit come from this initiative. The following are four reasons to feast:
beautiful, and delicious things come from God. He has blessed our cities with
amazing restaurants from places like Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Burma and more.
He created our taste buds so that our hearts would become increasingly grateful
with every bite of our tikka masala,
savory curry dishes, and skillfully grilled kebabs.
God has hidden his
beauty and creativity in the various cultures of the world. It would take
hundreds of days and thousands of dollars to travel the world, but God has
blessed us by bringing nations to our dinner table.
What if we made it
our goal to see these restaurants flourish? What if we went often, tipped well,
and made it our responsibility to promote these wonderful restaurants? What if
we turned our meal times into intentional opportunities to bless restaurant
owners from around the world? What if there was a movement of people who
traded their Taco Bell for tikka masala,
exchanged their Kentucky Fried Chicken for chicken kebabs, and passed on Dairy
Queen to make room for dim sum?
If we eat three meals
per day, we end up with 1,092 meals per year. Can we make our meal-time
decision with intentionality, for the sake of building bridges with our
neighbor, in the name of the Prince of Peace?
Part 2 here
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Jim Mullins is pastor of teaching, communities, and cultural engagement at Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona.