The Middle East is always making headlines, and more so recently. With civil wars, protests, and all the madness that plagues the region, another headline is coming up over and over again: the Middle East making the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest food servings in history.
It’s easy to point out the negatives and flaws in any campaign, be it military or marketing. However, this is exactly the issue: the food festivals that are taking place in Egypt, Lebanon, and even Dubai must be seen as marketing campaigns with strong links to the tourism industry, rather than a waste of potential and resources.
Encouraging food tourism
The tourism industry has suffered greatly due to the unrest in the region. Just last month, the attacks on Bardo Museum in Tunisia shone a line on the tourism industry, which makes up 15% of the countries GDP.
Likewise in Egypt, the income from the tourism industry has halved since the instability.
The suffering of the tourist industry is what inspired the idea to embark on a journey to make food-based world records. Reviving the tourism industry is key to recreating jobs that once existed, and reminding people why thousands have historically flocked to Egypt.
Personally, as an avid traveller, it’s all about the experience, and food plays s a significant part in the journey of any tourist. When the countries signature dish makes a world record, it is an excellent marketing statement.
Food as a political statement
Israel has occupied Palestinian land, and recently it has been attempting to occupy Arab heritage, by claiming regional foods as their own. Just as the Israeli Tourist Office used British supermarket giant Waitrose to print an advertisement reading Taste of Israel, which claimed Arab and Mediterranean recipes as their own, this was recognised as a poor attempt at tourism marketing.
Food has long been a weapon in social politics. For months, Israel and Lebanon battled as to who could make the largest serving of Hummus, a chickpea-based delicacy popular in both countries.
As far as I’m concerned, Arab heritage and Arab pride are as important as human life. So if attempting food-based world records saves Arab heritage, then I fully support it.
Food for food banks
I always wonder where the food goes. Hundreds of kilograms of food are made for these events, and there are hundreds of people who are dying of hunger on the streets.
According to Amr Ashraf, the CEO of Engezni and the main organiser of the food-world records in Egypt, the food is donated to destitute families in remote parts of Egypt.
This effort is aided by local NGOs such as Resala, who pack the food up and distribute it around the country in impoverished areas such as Ezbet Khairallah in Cairo. A total of 7,350 families were fed as a result of the Koshari festival, a nutritious Egyptian street food, and an additional 5,000 from the world’s biggest serving of Foul, another popular Egyptian dish.
Stand for Arab tourism and heritage
There is no greater impediment to expansion than our own thoughts. The region is rich, with talent, with agriculture, and most importantly, with heritage. It is our generations’ duty to preserve this heritage and fight for our history.
Our tourism industry is dwindling, but everyone loves food. So if food can revive the industry, then so be it. May the region continue to make headlines and world records for food.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir
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