Fattoush: Bread, Waste, Ethics فتوش

Director and Co-Producer: Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins

Co-Producer: Mohamed Harb

Animation: Alexandra Louloudi-Yakoumaki

Mirna Bamieh, creator of the Palestine Hosting Society, Ramallah, April 2021.

“Fattoush” is a film about how decay brings life. It is about ways of valuing material things that defy capitalist and consumerist norms of obsolescence and accumulation. And it is about Palestinian cooking across political boundaries. For Palestinians across Palestine, bread has long been a sacred food and object. Taking care to keep bread in use even after it has gone stale is not only a way to extend resources—it is also a way to be an ethical person. 

Stale bread is fundamental to Palestinian cuisine. The most famous stale bread dish today is a salad called Fattoush. But many of Palestine’s stale bread recipes are disappearing as life there has become more urban, more oriented toward capitalist consumption, more fast-paced, and more spatially contained by discriminatory Israeli policies. As cooking with stale bread has diminished, people seek alternative ways to keep this sacred object from the dump. Some compost it, some feed it to their own animals, and others cast bread away outside, hoping — often correctly — that strangers will take it to make use of it. Stranger sociabilities centering cast-away and stale bread have grown so large in some places, like Gaza, that there are people who live off of collecting cast-off bread in exchange for money. 

By visiting the kitchens, bakeries, and streets where people carry bread through its sacred life cycles in Gaza, the West Bank, ’48 Palestine and Jerusalem, this film reveals how stale bread’s afterlives turn it into a material embodiment of care for other beings, into the basis for social cohesion, and ethical self-making in a context where settler colonial militarism makes such practices a challenge. The film ends with a cooking lesson from Palestinian chef and artist Mirna Bamieh, where Mirna demonstrates how to make a disappearing ancient stale bread dish from her kitchen in Ramallah.

Note on method: Planning, filming, and production of this film have all taken place during the coronavirus pandemic. The film thus also offers a meditation on collaborative ethnographic film-making as it continues to shift with changes in restrictions to movement that stem from the pandemic. It draws on a five-person videography team that spanned Palestine and who were only able to connect and work together virtually: Mohamed Harb was in Gaza City, Raya Mana’a was in Majd al-Kurum, Saleem Anfous was in Bethlehem, and Yazid Dadu was in Jerusalem, and Nurin Kaoud was in Ramallah. The team was supported by researchers and creative consultants Idriss Khalidi (Ramallah), Rahaf Salahat (Ramallah), Ahmad Ijla (Gaza City), and Rawan Salem (Jerusalem). This cross-Palestine collaboration emerged during the beginnings of what is being dubbed the Intifada of Unity, which has seen Palestinians regardless of their legal status vis-a-vis Israel calling for recognition of a single set of rights.

Funded by the Open Society University Network (OSUN) Center for Human Rights and the Arts.