Know Your Neighbor Halal/Kosher Cook Off: A Battle of the Dishes

Introduction to the Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters Program

Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters (KYN-ME) is a national grassroots interfaith program that is the outgrowth of the Know Your Neighbor coalition of around 15 groups that was launched at the White House in December 2015 to work on policy concerning civil rights.

Founded on American values of religious freedom, pluralism, and inclusion, and motivated by a desire to build peaceful communities at the grassroots level through community engagement, the KYN-ME program was created by Islamic Networks Group (ING) in February 2016 to promote understanding and mutual respect among Americans of diverse religious and ethical traditions.

KYN-ME has grown into a collaborative effort of 100 partners with diverse missions and objectives who work together on campaigns that push back against bigotry and discrimination while promoting civil dialogue across differences, building relationships and peaceful communities, and advancing human rights and justice.

Purpose

The purpose of this event is to use food and a little bit of competition to bring communities together, especially Jewish and Muslim communities. Both faith traditions share a lot in common when it comes to dietary laws and restrictions, so we hope this event is a great time to learn more about the scriptures and traditions behind these practices. Many traditional Jewish and Muslim cuisines share a lot in common as well, with similar flavors, spices, and preparation styles.

If this event doesn’t quite fit for your community we would suggest altering it. One idea to be more inclusive of various faith and ethical traditions is to have a “Veg Off” and challenge individuals to bring their best meal. College towns could have an interfaith tailgate cook off and have participants create the best tailgate foods.

What would this event look like?

Generally we hope that this event will look like a fun-filled cook-off where community members come to better get to know others across difference and bond over what all Americans enjoy—good food.

We encourage you to take this idea and adapt it it to best suit your community, but here are a few aspects that we think are important to consider:

What is required to host the event

  • Community groups to partner with
  • Time to plan the space and organize volunteers
  • Some experience with event planning and interfaith engagement—being aware of faith and cultural sensitives
  • An advertising committee to create flyers, circulate the information to groups involved, and promote the event in the community
  • Volunteers for set up and clean up of the event
  • A facility which can hold enough people and tools for keeping food warm (plate warmers, a kitchen, etc.)
  • Volunteers to compete and prepare dishes. Cap the number of attendees from various faith traditions so that the numbers aren’t unbalanced or excessive
  • This event must be not for profit—since this guide was created by a nonprofit organization we hope you’ll use it to bring communities together, not for any kind of fundraising initiative
  • An appetite for dialogue!

Before the event

  • Host a meeting with community groups involved to pick a date and a theme and decide on the details listed below:
    • Find a space that best suits the number of volunteers. If you have ten competing chefs, a large community room with a kitchen space would work well. If you have 100 volunteers you may have to be more creative in the space used—an auditorium, large field, food truck rally area, etc.
    • Create a flyer for the event and circulate it within the faith communities involved and the larger community
    • Create a method for volunteer chefs to register for the event
    • Create a voting system for the dishes which works best for the number of attendees
    • Create either prizes for the winners or some kind of thank-you for those who participated
    • Arrange for a photographer to capture the event (Be sure to send us pictures! Email them to [email protected])

Day of the event

  • Set up round tables for attendees to sit and enjoy their food and discuss questions related to the event
  • Arrange for faith leaders to bless the food prior to the competition and briefly discuss the importance of food and dietary laws in their tradition
  • Designate a facilitator to open the event, explain its significance and schedule, and introduce the community groups, volunteers, and other participants
  • Have volunteers plate the food in small amounts so that everyone can try a variety of items and doesn’t fill a plate from one dish
  • Be sure to provide utensils, bowls, plates, napkins, etc.
  • Have a cleanup committee

Guidelines for volunteer chefs

  • Help volunteers prepare a leaflet explaining why they chose the dish they brought (origins of the food in their tradition, any connections to a religious text, similarities in other faith traditions or communities, explanation of Halal/Kosher laws in relation to the food item, etc.) and listing the ingredients used for those with dietary restrictions
  • Remember to have fun and be respectful towards other traditions and other chefs! Don’t be upset by any differing perspectives by fellow chefs, whether it’s in regard to cooking methods or claims to a specific food’s origin

Optional ideas

  • Have judges who anonymously rate the foods and have prizes for the winners. Invite community leaders to act as judges
  • Have a panel of faith leaders who discuss the tradition behind these foods, the reasons behind dietary laws, the importance of food in faith traditions, etc
  • Encourage volunteers to share their recipes and allow attendees to collect them, creating a Halal/Kosher scrap book

Questions for discussion

  • What foods do you most associate with your faith tradition or identity group? Why?
  • What are dietary laws you abide by (or don’t abide by) in your tradition? Why?
  • Pick a food that you had today and tell us what it reminds you of—a religious holiday, an experience with your family, etc.
  • Was there a food you had today provided by a faith tradition other than your own which was similar to, or the same as, something in your own tradition?
  • Was there an item you’d never had before? Describe it and tell your table guests your thoughts on it.