Trevor Graham has a crazy theory: hummus can bring peace to the Middle East. In his new film, “Make Hummus, Not War,” the Australian documentary filmmaker takes a humorous look at some serious issues, showing how the region’s undisputed favorite food both divides and unites people.
Inspired by a 2008 lawsuit, Graham set out to determine what nation and people can truly claim hummus as their own. In that year, a Lebanese trade group sued the nation of Israel for marketing dishes like hummus, falafel, and tabbouleh as Israeli, claiming they are Lebanese.
But the debate Graham discovered went far beyond food. “The hummus war, he concludes, is a battle over history, national honour, myth and religious faith,” states the film’s website. “Does that sound familiar?”
The film includes many interviews, with restaurant owners, politicians, and writers from Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and even the US. Prominent names include Middle Eastern cookbook writers Claudia Roden and Christiane Dabdoub Nasser, and Lebanese tourism minister Fadi Abboud. The scenes are intercut with Monty Python-inspired animation, adding to what Graham calls the film’s most important ingredient–humor.
“Make Hummus” is not the first film to try to approach the Israel-Palestine conflict through food and comedy. The 2007 musical comedy short “West Bank Story” depicted two star-crossed lovers from Israeli and Palestinian falafel shops, respectively. It won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
Graham’s documentary also begs the natural question–where is the best hummus? A post at the Jewish Daily Forward delves into his thoughts on the matter, listing several places in Jerusalem and Beirut. But one American spot, Hummus Place in NYC, even made the list, though Graham noted the hummus there had been “modified for the New York palette.”
“The garlic’s been a bit toned down,” he said.
“Make Hummus, Not War” is screening at film festivals around the world, and is available for purchase on the film’s website.