Anna Badkhen, Author, "Peace Meals"; Fotini Christia, Assistant Professor in Political Science
Description: While breaking bread around the world with friends and families suffering through war and deprivation, Anna Badkhen managed to compile not just a vivid chronicle of lives under duress, but a cookbook. In this dialogue with MIT political scientist Fotini Christia, Badkhen describes her new work, Peace Meals: Candy"Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories< /i>, in which by some Proustian process frontline reporting melds with tasty recipes.
Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East or Africa seem remote to most Americans, seen mainly through the lens of a news camera. In contrast, Badkhen takes "a quiet, intimate long look" into the living rooms of people under constant threat of violence and destitution. Her persistence over 10 years of reporting has won her friends in dangerous and ravaged lands. Peace Meals arose from a series of food"based, extended conversations about survival with her most memorable acquaintances. Says Badkhen, "All that is holding us together are stories. And (my subjects) tell stories from their dinner tables."
In her book, Badkhen mingles description of food preparation and consumption with a chronicle of conversation, and provides as well a complex stew of culture, history and politics that is a necessary part of each survivor's story. No matter how extreme her subjects' circumstances, "the more stripped down the house or kitchen, the more the emptiness was filled with extraordinary humanity and generosity."
For her, each recipe or meal evokes a unique encounter and acquaintance. Dolma (stuffed grape leaves) calls up her Iraqi reporter friend and his family, who cooked with her in 2003 "while U.S. planes were bombing their hometown." A hearty borscht summons the evening in 2002 when Russian authorities invaded a Moscow theater held by Chechen terrorists, leading to the death of 129 people. For Russians, this beet soup is "the ultimate comfort food, like donuts," says Badkhen. Her friends "went for the borscht" because it was "hot, and protects you from the physical cold of living in a country that doesn't care." An American Army commander in Iraq shared his barracks meal: a burger, corn dog, French fries and Jell"O. "He ate the same meal every day," Badkhen says, regardless of whatever else was in the menu. "He felt each meal might be his last If the day ends, and he is still alive, there will be the corn dog which will remind him of home."
About the Speaker(s): Anna Badkhen has covered wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Chechnya and Kashmir. She has reported extensively from Iraq since 2003. Her reporting has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The National, FRONTLINE/World, Truthdig, and Salon. Her wartime journalism won the 2007 Joel R. Seldin Award for reporting on civilians in war zones.
Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for International Studies
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