WARNING! This article is long, and will take some time to read! Found it in the AOL/Huffpost:
I wish they would start a Muhammara war; I love the stuff!
Sabra’s Quest To Push Hummus Mainstream Is About Much More Than Chickpeas
Posted: 06/10/2013 8:04 am EDT | Updated: 06/10/2013 5:01 pm EDT
Last winter, executives from the snack-food empire Frito-Lay invited Ronen Zohar, the Israeli head of America’s biggest hummus company, to watch the Super Bowl from a luxury suite at the Superdome in New Orleans.
For the snack-food industry, the Super Bowl amounts to something like Christmas and every kid’s birthday party wrapped into one, a day on which the average American consumes the caloric equivalent of 20 servings of Utz’s sour cream and onion dip. For Sabra, whose red-rimmed tubs of hummus are increasingly found inside American refrigerators, the stakes were particularly high.
“People are dipping in Super Bowl,” Zohar said. “They are looking for what to dip. Unfortunately they are dipping in the wrong product. But we try to change this. And we are doing okay.”
Around Sabra’s offices just outside New York City, employees are fond of saying that they hope to put their Middle Eastern chickpea dip “on every American table.” Though that mission is far from achieved, the company is off to an impressive start. In the last half-decade, overall sales of hummus have climbed sharply in the United States, with Sabra capturing about 60 percent of the market, according to the Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources, Inc. This spring, Sabra announced an $86 million dollar expansion of its Virginia factory, a move that the company says will create 140 jobs.
As the company’s leader during this stretch, Zohar has overseen a wide-ranging publicity effort aimed at simultaneously coaxing Americans to open their minds to a new taste of foreign origin while downplaying controversial aspects of the product’s provenance. In an age of significant spending by America’s pro-Israel lobby, even chickpeas have been swept into the debate over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, its attitude toward its Arab neighbors and its reliance on American support.
Pro-Palestinian activists have in recent years organized boycotts of Sabra’s Israeli parent company, Strauss, for providing care packages to the Golani Brigade, a branch of the Israeli army that has allegedly committed human-rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza. Groups in Lebanon have criticized Sabra for reaping the spoils of what they say is an intrinsically Lebanese dish. To quote a saying that has surfaced on the Internet, “First our land, then our hummus.”
Zohar, a blunt-spoken man of 52 who rose through the industry by persuading more Israelis to consume American corn products, dismisses both groups of critics as irrelevant. The Palestinian boycott amounts to mere “noise,” he says. As for the argument that hummus belongs to Lebanon: “I am very happy if Lebanon is going to fight about the hummus and not about anything else.”
Like any businessman, Zohar likes to talk about his product’s promising future. But hummus has a long history. And in the Middle East, history has a way of intruding upon the present, shaping questions about the legitimacy of what Sabra has been adding to the American table.
“The history of this food is that of the Middle East,” writes Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-Jewish cookbook author who has been credited with introducing Middle Eastern food to the West. “Dishes carry the triumphs and glories, the defeats, the loves and sorrows of the past.”
No one knows for sure how far back the history of hummus goes, but traces of chickpea, the key ingredient, have turned up in Middle Eastern archeological sitesdating to 7,500 B.C. In his bestselling book, Guns, Germs, And Steel, the anthropologist Jared Diamond identifies the chickpea as one of several hardy, nutrition-packed food crops that grew in the Fertile Crescent and enabled its people to develop agriculture and, in turn, cities, armies, systems of taxation and governments.
As civilization spread outward, chickpeas did, too, becoming garbanzos in Spain and chana in India. In the Middle East, they were boiled, mashed and mixed with the sesame paste known as tahini, becoming “hummus bi tahini,” more commonly known as hummus.
In recent years, the growing popularity of hummus has made the dip an object of controversy. Sabra instigated one of the fights at a publicity event in New York in 2007, where it served several hundred pounds of hummus on a plate the size of an above-ground swimming pool, prompting its executives to boast that they had produced the largest dish of hummus in the history of the world.
A year later, an Israeli competitor, Osem, responded by serving 881 pounds of hummus at an outdoor market in Jerusalem. The event took place on Israeli Independence day, or as Palestinians call it, Al Nachbar, The Disaster. A Guinness representative was there to document the victory.
Lebanon entered the fray about a year after that, doubling Osem’s record at a cook-off in Beirut. The chefs, who had been convened by a pair of Lebanese business associations, used spices to decorate what was now the world’s largest hummus plate with a picture of the Lebanese flag. While they were at it, they also broke Israel’s record for the largest bowl of of tabouli, a bulgur and parsley dish. According to The Daily Star of Lebanon, the groups that organized the event had a more grandiose goal than merely notching a volume record: They hoped to promote the idea that the Lebanese had invented both tabouli and hummus.
In the months after that feat, Lebanon and Israel traded shots, with Lebanon delivering what has so far proved the victorious blow, serving 23,042 pounds of chickpea dip at a weekend-long gathering in 2010. On the eve of the event, Ramzi Nadim Shwaryi, a Lebanese TV chef and one of the festival’s coordinators, told the Lebanese press that he and his allies were in it for Lebanon’s honor.
“We will stand together against this industrial and cultural violation and defend our economy, civilization and Lebanese heritage,” he said.
At about the same time the hummus wars were playing out in Lebanon, a group of Palestinian-sympathizers in the United States tried to call attention to Israel’s military activities in the West Bank and Gaza by pressing for boycotts of two Israeli-owned hummus companies — Sabra, and one of its larger competitors, Tribe.
The boycotters identified themselves as supporters of a broader movement called Boycott, Divest and Sanctions. Launched by Palestinian activists in 2005 following failed peace negotiations, the organization aimed to apply economic pressure on the Israeli government to end its 46-year occupation of Palestinian territories.
A YouTube video produced by protesters in Philadelphia who were part of the movement caught the attention of student activists at Princeton and DePaul universities in 2010. They tried to persuade their schools’ dining services to stop offering Sabra. Although they didn’t succeed, activists in the movement are still trying to garner support for their anti-Sabra efforts.
Still, Zohar does not seem particularly distressed by the potential implications for Sabra’s sales.
“The protesters make noise, but they make noise to themselves,” he said. “It doesn’t have any influence on our business.”
THE HUMMUS RELIGION
As the protests played out in the margins, Sabra aimed its product at the American mainstream. It deployed volunteers in trucks to hand out free samples of hummus in cities around the country, and expanded its product line to include more familiar dips, including guacamole and salsa.
It launched a national television ad campaign, exhorting people to “taste the Mediterranean,” and moved its staff in 2011 from an old industrial building across the street from a Queens cemetery to a sleek suburban office park, where the company heads plotted the conquest of the American marketplace in conference rooms named after touristy, exotic destinations like Madagascar and Morocco. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the rooms were named after Lebanon or Israel.)
At the root of Sabra’s success was an influx of corporate money and resources. Strauss, an Israeli snack-food giant, bought half of Sabra in 2005, and Frito-Lay, the snack-food division of Pepsico, entered a joint-partnership agreement with Strauss in 2008. Zohar worked closely with the Frito-Lay people, who had scored a big victory for a foreign dip in the early ’90s, when Tostito’s salsa beat Heinz Ketchup to becomeAmerica’s best-selling condiment.
With Frito-Lay and Strauss’ investments, Sabra built its Virginia factory, where it developed flavors intended to appeal to the average American consumer: Spinach and Artichoke, Pesto, Buffalo Style. As Arabs and Israelis quarreled over the origins of hummus, Sabra was putting out a product that bore about as much resemblance to the authentic dish as a Domino’s BBQ Meat Lovers pie does to a genuine Italian pizza.
In Israel, meanwhile, yet another hummus debate was raging, and although it was the least overtly political of the controversies, it was no less capable of provoking feelings of hostility and anger. As the celebrated British-Israeli chef and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian-born business partner and co-author Sami Tamimi wrote in the 2102 cookbook Jerusalem, “Jews in particular, and even more specifically Jewish men, never tire of arguments about the absolute, the only and only, the most fantastic hummusia.”
A hummusia is the Israeli equivalent of a New York pizza parlor, a cheap establishment that usually serves only hummus and a few other dishes. But the debates about hummusias are more intense than even the most impassioned pizza threads on Yelp.
“The hummusia fetish is so powerful that even the best of friends may easily turn against each other if they suddenly find themselves in opposite hummus camps,” Ottolenghi and Tamimi wrote. The arguments “can carry on for hours,” they noted, with the debaters delving into the minutia of whether hummus is better served warm or at room temperature, smooth or chunky, topped with fava beans or cumin and paprika, or nothing at all.
In a letter to The New York Times at the height of the hummus wars, Israeli food writer Janna Gur went even further, calling Israel’s fascination with hummus a “religion.” She noted that the most treasured restaurants are invariably owned by Arabs, a phenomenon she traced to the early Zionist settlers who arrived in the Holy Land determined to put the customs of the Diaspora behind them, while embracing a new identity in the Levant. They traded Yiddish for Hebrew, yeshivas for plowshares, and matzoh balls and tsimmis for falafel balls and hummus. “This love affair, that has been going on for decades, shows no signs of dying,” Gur wrote.
Last summer, while traveling in Israel, I visited as many of the hummusias as I could, hoping to come to my own conclusions about the craze. I was joined in this mission by my father, who moved from Israel to New York in the early 1970s and has griped about the quality of America’s hummus offerings ever since. Like many Israelis, he looks down not just on corporate hummus brands like Sabra and Tribe, but also on local shops that package their own hummus in take-out containers. As far as he is concerned, the religion of hummus forbids packaging of any kind.
In the Middle East, hummus is served fresh from the pot, on a big communal plate dripped with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and cumin. The plate has to be big enough and flat enough so that you can comfortably wipe up the hummus with a pita, an activity that my father refers to as “swiping.” He insists that hummus should have a subtle, earthy flavor, and disdains spicy hummus, lemony hummus, hummus with chipotles, hummus with artichoke, hummus with basil, sun-dried tomato or spinach, and most of all, the dip referred to as “black bean hummus.”
As he has pointed out many times, hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea; by definition, hummus made of black beans isn’t hummus.
In Israel, my father and I ate at Abu Hassan, a bare-tabled hummus den in the seaside town of Jaffa, where the staff starts serving early in the morning and shuts down the shop after the pot runs out, often in the early afternoon. We wandered the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, past the pilgrims crowding into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, until we reached a tiny hummus shrine adorned with black-and-white pictures of people sharing a meal at the shop sometime in the 1930s.
One day we drove to a city in Palestine’s West Bank known for its tahina factories and uprisings. By law, Israelis are forbidden from entering the Palestinian territories, except to travel to the Jewish settlements, but we felt that no hummus pilgrimage would be complete without a trip to Nablus.
At the checkpoint, an Arab cab driver pulled over and said he hoped, for our own sake, that we wouldn’t enter the city in our Israeli rental car. We thanked him and drove past the Israeli guards, through the rounded hills studded with olive trees. My father grew quiet. When he’d first traveled those hills, in 1967, he was in a tank, pushing forward toward the Jordan River as thousands of Palestinian refugees streamed down the sides of the road. The Six-Day War had broken out and the Israeli army had conquered the Palestinian villages.
After a while we reached the outskirts of Nablus, parked and made our way through the maze-like casbah, to a dim, windowless hummus restaurant with electrical wires hanging from the ceiling. A teenage boy strolled into the room with an unmarked bottle of olive oil, tipping it onto people’s plates. After a few minutes of “swiping,” my father announced that this was the best hummus he’d tasted on the trip — though he also remarked that the excitement of entering forbidden territory had enhanced the flavor. By that point I knew that my hummus palate wasn’t refined enough to discern the subtle differences between the various hummusia offerings, but I liked them all better than any hummus I’d ever had in America.
Toward the end of our stay, we traveled to the fertile hills of the Galilee region, where an Arab chef named Husam Abbas had been garnering praise for his gourmet take on Arab food, defying a number of Israeli assumptions about Palestinian culture.
Abbas, who has been described as a leading figure of Israel’s Slow Food movement, broke ground at his chain of high-end restaurants by showing Israelis that Arab cuisine isn’t just hummus and kebab. His specialties include a spicy watermelon salad with diced mustard stems and stuffed summer squash in a tomato bisque, and he uses produce grown in fields that his family has tended, by his account, for 1,700 years.
Abbas met us by the side of the road in his pickup truck and led us into his fields. A gruff man with a leathery face, he tramped down the leafy aisles with a cigarette lodged in his mouth, stooping to gather purple-tipped string beans, young cantaloupes that looked more like cucumbers, several kinds of summer squash, and beautifully misshapen heirloom tomatoes.
Later, in the dining room of one of his restaurants, he explained that when the growing season ends, he and his children go into the hills to gather wild herbs with names like “olesh” and “aqab” and “hobeza.” The herbs grow only locally and only in the winter.
“But because hummus is dry, it can be used throughout the year,” he said.
When I asked how he accounted for the dip’s popularity, he kept his answer short: “Low cost, high calorie.” He seemed a little annoyed at the need to deliver this dictum.
As Sabra strives to make its chickpea dip as popular as bagels, burritos and other foreign-born fixtures of the American diet, it is employing a flavor palette that would test the limits of acceptability in the Middle East.
One recent day, Mary Dawn Wright, Sabra’s executive chef, stood before an array of hummus containers at the company’s Virginia factory, discussing these techniques. She popped open a tub labeled Asian Fusion.
“Israelis would never ever think it’s considered to be hummus,” she admitted.
A glistening spoonful of some brightly colored carrot and ginger mixture distinguished the dip from anything you’d find in a hummusia. Sabra collaborates with outside “flavor houses,” whose scientists also help develop classic American products like Doritos, she explained.
Asian Fusion is just one of more than a dozen flavors that Sabra has invented in its effort to convert more Americans to hummus, and Wright was almost certainly correct in her frank assessment of what Israelis might think of them. Even Zohar didn’t bother to feign enthusiasm for Sabra’s Buffalo Style flavor. “I detest it,” he said.
But for Zohar, and presumably for the rest of Sabra’s executives, personal feelings about the flavors are as irrelevant as hummus’ place of origin. What matters are the cravings of the average American consumer, and Zohar seems to think that no American is beyond the company’s reach.
At the Superbowl, he noticed that many of the tailgaters were eating Louisiana fare — “all kinds of crabs and shrimps, whatever it is.”
He didn’t see any hummus containers amid the jambalaya and gumbo.
“Maybe in New Orleans they are eating hummus not as much as people in New York are eating hummus,” he said recently. “But give us two years. They are trying it, and when they try it they become a lover.”
I am appalled. I have scoured the TV News, have looked through newspapers – not a word! I steam at corruption in Kuwait and Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and then a small NPR Report on yesterday’s news alerts me to a measure, passed in Congress, WITHOUT A WHISPER!
(oh? I was shouting? Sorry. Carried away. Outraged) You can access the NPR station and listen to the entire repulsive report by clicking here.
Congress Repeals Financial Disclosure Requirements For Senior U.S. Officials
by EYDER PERALTA
A tourist takes cover underneath an umbrella while snapping a photo of the U.S. Capitol on March 6, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Joining the Senate, the House of Representatives approved a measure today that repeals a requirement that top government officials post financial disclosures on the Internet.
The House, like the Senate, acted quietly without a vote. Instead, they sent the measure to the president’s desk by unanimous consent.
The provision was part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (Stock), which became law in March of 2012. The act was intended to stop members of congress from profiting from nonpublic information.
As NPR’s Tamara Keith reported, at the time, Sen. Joe Lieberman called the law “the most significant congressional ethics reform legislation to pass Congress in at least five years.”
“That law mainly addressed conflict-of-interest policies for members of Congress and their staffs, but it also included a requirement that the financial disclosure forms filed by some 28,000 high-ranking federal employees be posted online.
“While those forms are public records, they must be requested individually from employing agencies. The Stock Act envisions online posting first on agency sites and later in a central, searchable database.
“The posting requirement was delayed three times out of concerns about the potential for identity theft and other crimes against career employees, as well as security risks to the government.”
The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for a more open government,called today’s repeal an “epic failure.”
The foundation explained that instead of addressing specific security concerns, Congress has acted broadly.
For instance, they note, the president, vice president, members of Congress, congressional candidates and individuals subject to Senate confirmation are still required to make their financial disclosures public. But the change in law now makes the posting of those disclosures on the Internet optional.
“Not only does the change undermine the intent of the original bill to ensure government insiders are not profiting from non-public information (if anyone thinks high level congressional staffers don’t have as much or more insider information than their bosses, they should spend some time on Capitol Hill) but it sets an extraordinarily dangerous precedent suggesting that any risks stem not from information being public but from public information being online.
“Are we going to return to the days when the public can use the Internet to research everything exceptwhat their government is doing? Will Congress, in its twisted wisdom, decide that information is public if journalists, academics, advocates and citizens are forced to dig through file cabinets in basements in Washington, DC to find it? And does anyone think that makes us safer?
“As my colleague Tom Lee noted, ‘This approach is known as ‘security through obscurity.’ Essentially, the idea is that rather than fixing a system’s flaws, you can just make the system opaque or unusable or unpopular enough that those flaws never surface.’”
Update at 5:35 p.m. ET. 30 Seconds:
NPR’s Tamara Keith tells us the House procedure took exactly 30 seconds.
Correction at 5:29 p.m. ET. An earlier version of his post said the House followed the Senate. In fact, the Senate voted Thursday and the House voted today.
Initial reports of this deadly virus came out a short time ago, and now the Center for Disease Control has issued a warning:
Deadly New Virus Warning Issued By CDC After Novel Coronavirus Causes 8 Deaths
The Huffington Post | By Dominique Mosbergen
Posted: 03/08/2013 2:58 pm EST | Updated: 03/08/2013 5:35 pm EST
In a cautionary report on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of a deadly new virus that has sickened more than a dozen people and killed eight in the Arabian peninsula and the U.K. so far.
No cases of the new virus — a coronavirus that experts say had previously never been seen in humans — have been reported in the United States. Still, the CDC has advised anyone visiting countries in or near the Arabian peninsula, including Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to see a doctor if a fever or symptoms of a lower respiratory illness develop within 10 days of their travels.
As Reuters points out, the new virus is “part of the same family of viruses as the common cold and the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that first emerged in Asia in 2003.”
Since April last year, a total of 14 people were confirmed to have been infected by the new coronavirus. Nine of them were infected in either Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Jordan; three people in the U.K. have also been infected.
“In the U.K., an infected man likely spread the virus to two family members. He had recently traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and got sick before returning to the U.K.,” according to a CDC release on the virus. The man’s son, one of the family members who was infected, died last month.
I found this article in the Weather Underground News this morning:
DOHA, Qatar — An amount of freshwater almost the size of the Dead Sea has been lost in parts of the Middle East due to poor management, increased demands for groundwater and the effects of a 2007 drought, according to a NASA study.
The study, to be published Friday in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, examined data over seven years from 2003 from a pair of gravity-measuring satellites which is part of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment or GRACE. Researchers found freshwater reserves in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins had lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of its total stored freshwater, the second fastest loss of groundwater storage loss after India.
About 60 percent of the loss resulted from pumping underground reservoirs for ground water, including 1,000 wells in Iraq, and another fifth was due to impacts of the drought including declining snow packs and soil drying up. Loss of surface water from lakes and reservoirs accounted for about another fifth of the decline, the study found.
“This rate of water loss is among the largest liquid freshwater losses on the continents,” the authors wrote in the study, noting the declines were most obvious after a drought.
The study is the latest evidence of a worsening water crisis in the Middle East, where demands from growing populations, war and the worsening effects of climate change are raising the prospect that some countries could face sever water shortages in the decades to come. Some like impoverished Yemen blame their water woes on the semi-arid conditions and the grinding poverty while the oil-rich Gulf faces water shortages mostly due to the economic boom that has created glistening cities out of the desert.
In a report released during the U.N. climate talks in Qatar, the World Bank concluded among the most critical problems in the Middle East and North Africa will be worsening water shortages. The region already has the lowest amount of freshwater in the world. With climate change, droughts in the region are expected to turn more extreme, water runoff is expected to decline 10 percent by 2050 while demand for water is expected to increase 60 percent by 2045.
One of the biggest challenges to improving water conservation is often competing demands which has worsened the problem in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins.
Turkey controls the Tigris and Euphrates headwaters, as well as the reservoirs and infrastructure of Turkey’s Greater Anatolia Project, which dictates how much water flows downstream into Syria and Iraq, the researchers said. With no coordinated water management between the three countries, tensions have intensified since the 2007 drought because Turkey continues to divert water to irrigate farmland.
“That decline in stream flow put a lot of pressure on northern Iraq,” Kate Voss, lead author of the study and a water policy fellow with the University of California’s Center for Hydrological Modeling in Irvine, said. “Both the UN and anecdotal reports from area residents note that once stream flow declined, this northern region of Iraq had to switch to groundwater. In an already fragile social, economic and political environment, this did not help the situation.”
Jay Famiglietti, principle investigator of the new study and a hydrologist and UC Irvine professor of Earth System Science, plans to visit the region later this month, along with Voss and two other UC Irvine colleagues, to discuss their findings and raise awareness of the problem and the need for a regional approach to solve the problem.
“They just do not have that much water to begin with, and they’re in a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change,” Famiglietti said. “Those dry areas are getting dryer. They and everyone else in the world’s arid regions need to manage their available water resources as best they can.”
I’ve always loved this passage, along with the woman at the well, and the woman who touched the hem of his garment to be healed from a bleeding disease – Jesus was kind to women, in a time and culture where a pious man would not speak to a woman.
Hilary Mantel captures the stunning experience in Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, where she asks a man at a counter for an item and he looks right past her. She repeats her request and he acts as if she isn’t there. Her husband walks up, asks, and receives an answer. Cultural biases most often do not favor women. In this regard, Jesus – and the prophet Mohammed – changed everything, and treated women as equal people. It’s amazing to me how many of the Jesus anecdotes featuring females survived; it must have been astonishing in his time to treat females – property – with such compassion and humanity.
Footnote to this passage from The Lectionary: The most ancient authorities lack 7.53—8.11; other authorities add the passage here or after 7.36 or after 21.25 or after Luke 21.38, with variations of text; some mark the passage as doubtful.
53Then each of them went home, 81while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.* 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’* And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’]]*
AdventureMan zipped left across three lanes of traffic and into a parking lot.
“What are you doing?” I hollered, hanging on for dear life.
“Jordan Valley restaurant has a new sign up, a big map of the Middle East, and I want to see how they handle the Israel problem,” he answered.
That explains everything. No, really, it does. We’ve been married for a long time, I know what he means.
“Very clever,” we both agreed.