Food fight at Harvard Business School

There are college food fights, most memorably John Belushi's iconic standard in Animal House. And then there is the recent Harvard School of Business food fight, which, as one would expect, is less physical but more vitriolic, more hate filled than Belushi's. As a result, while it is  so much sillier on the surface it is so foreboding for the future, so revealing about the ugliness and fear at Harvard. 

The Harvard incident started when the B School cafeteria hosted an Israeli food station offering among other choices Israeli cous cous, zatar chicken, spice roast lamb, tahini sauce and fattoush salad at its daily rotating international buffet. Lebanese Harvard graduate, Sara el-Yafi, immediately objected, posting to facebook  

a letter of protest to the university describing the Israeli buffet's menu as an affront to Arabs, as such foods as humous and couscous are not of Israeli origin.

"That 'Israeli Mezze Station" is the ultimate multicultural, multireligious 'f*** you' in the face of ALL Arabs at once from North Africa to the Levant," el- Yafi wrote. "Israel already has a hard time keeping face in the Arab world for the way it has 'appropriated' its lands since 1948, don't make it worse for them by having them appropriate other peoples' foods as well," she added.

El-Yafi also pointed out that haloumi cheese is in fact "Cypriot," and therefore "until Cyprus becomes another conquered Israeli territory, haloumi is considered NOT Israeli." She concluded that at the very least the buffet should be renamed "Mediterranean Mezze Station."  

And how did Harvard respond to el-Yafi's affront to international good will?  Harvard's chief marketing and communications officer Brian Kenny

reportedly said that "we are deeply troubled that we offended anybody by doing this buffet item, particularly considering that our reason for doing the international buffet each day is to celebrate cultural diversity."

"We've been following the comments and the [Facebook] posts," Kenny continued, which have "prompted us to have some extensive conversations here internally... to understand how this happened and to make sure that it doesn't happen again."  

Interestingly Kenny does not seem "deeply troubled that we offended anybody" by validating el-Yafi's bigoted comments.  Certainly he did. 

Harvard, which prides itself on its multi cultural outlook, apparently erred in admitting el-Yafi who doesn't understand that the Israeli way of preparing these dishes is probably different from her mother's in Lebanon; that while many of the Mediterranean countries have similar foods, they have regional differences depending on local availability and preferences.  And Kenny, if he were a resourceful and clever communications officer could have capitalized on el-Yafi's objections, agreeing to a Mediterranean station as she suggested, one that emphasized one dish from each food category but noting country to country variances.   

Do the Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, HizB'allah and Syrian refugees in el-Yafi's Lebanon all have the same cous cous recipe?  Could they sample the other group's dish without fighting unlike the ethnic wars in Lebanon? 

But Kenny didn't choose this option.  Instead he abjectly apologized after "some extensive conversations here internally...and to make sure it doesn't happen again",  thus deeply revealing Harvard's priorities, saying that offending Israelis, and maybe Jews, and their culture is fine but offending Arabs and/or Muslims is to be avoided at all costs. 

Perhaps Harvard will have an international buffet consisting of  all American pizza or pork free hamburgers with fries all washed down with tea.  

Enjoy your meal Harvard students. Or as they say in Hebrew, be'te-avon; in Yiddish, es gezunterheyt.

And to el-Yafi, the same. Bil hana wish shifa'!, bil-hanā' wa ash-shifā', befarma'id.