Why Arab Food Is Left Out?
By: Anthony Bayyouk / Arab American Contributing Writer
Every nationality in the United States has influenced American cuisine. Chain food places like Taco Bell and On The Border have Americanized it. Every grocery store you go into has a Latin section. Japanese food is overwhelmingly popular. Sushi Is everywhere; grocery stores are starting to add fresh sushi made daily to keep up with the demand. The same goes for Chinese food. Panda Express and PF Chang’s have Americanized Chinese food. Then, there is Middle Eastern food, which in my opinion, has had a slow start. Middle Eastern food is just starting to pop up in restaurants and grocery stores outside Arab neighborhoods. Places like CAVA and Halal Brothers, which are famous for their Mediterranean bowls, are becoming more popular. Why is America taking its time with Arab Food?
There is a reason why Middle Eastern food has not been accepted into American society or Americanized. After 9/11, the war in Iraq, and during the war in Afgan, grocery stores did not want to lose customers by selling Middle Eastern products; they did not want to be labeled as supporting or normalizing relations with “ That Part Of The World”. White Americans are very nationalistic. If a white mom that had lost a son or husband in one of the wars and walked into a grocery store or restaurant with Middle eastern products, she may not return. Moreover, many of the big grocery store chains have Zionist owners or investors that make sure there are not any Middle Eastern products sold. Even When there are Middle Eastern products sold, they are labeled as “Israeli” Or in the case of the famous hummus brand “ Sabra”, which is actually owned by zionist.
Despite Americans taking their time to accept Middle Eastern food, Arabs have taken it upon themselves to spread the delicious cuisine. The Middle Eastern diet has become the healthiest and most efficient diet in the world. Middle Eastern food hits every food group. Grape Leaves, for example, have meat, which is your protein, rice which is your wheat, and grape leaf, which is your vegetable, and it can be served with a side of leban (yogurt) as your dairy. Grape leaves are just one example of Middle Eastern dishes that cover many food groups.
Restaurants will serve Arab food and label themselves as Mediterranean because the word “Arab” carries a lot of weight and history that business owners do not want to be associated with. From an educated perspective, it is offensive for a restaurant to label itself as the Mediterranean and not serve food from other nations that border the Mediterranean, such as Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France, etc. The Mediterranean does not only belong to the Arabs.
Although, there is one community in the United States that has appreciated Middle Eastern food. Vegans have accepted the cuisine into their diet. In every vegan restaurant, you will find falafel on the menu. Vegans use falafel all the time as a substitute for meat. Whole Foods and other grocery stores are starting to carry falafel mix. Just do not let tata (grandmother) catch you making falafel from a box.
College campuses, malls, and many other places are starting to see falafel spots pop up. Falafel has been the breakthrough in Middle Eastern food. What’s next? Shawarma is becoming more and more popular. To appeal to an American customer base, Middle Eastern restaurants have even changed the name of Shawerma to “Wraps”. In reality, it is a wrap.
Arab Americans have never stopped opening Middle Eastern-related businesses since they first started immigrating to America. There is always an Arab-owned bakery, restaurant, and grocery store in every metropolitan area not too far away. In Dearborn, MI there are so many Arab-owned businesses that they compete with each other. People are always talking about who has the best shawarma, cheese bread, or baklawa. These Arab communities exist all over the United States. Michigan has Dearborn, New Jersey has Patterson, and Illinois has Bridgeview.
Will there ever come a time when ordering Middle Eastern food for dinner is as common as ordering Chinese food? Mainstream media is not the only form of media anymore. Through social media, Americans can see the Middle East from a different point of view.
Whether it is tomorrow or in a hundred years, American businesses will not be able to ignore the demand for Middle Eastern products. Whether it comes from Arab Americans or all Americans, the demand will not be ignored.
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