Socially conscious hummus production
The Com.Pot brand was created last year as part of the 'Peace On The Table' project. It employs all women of different religious walks of life, with all proceeds going to peace initiatives.
São Paulo – In the Barra Funda neighborhood of São Paulo, eight women professing different religions go about making hummus for the newly-created brand Com.Pot. They are Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Spiritists, Evangelicals, and Catholics who make plain hummus plus four other flavors: carrot and ginger, pumpkin and chilli pepper, bell pepper and garlic, and beets and garlic. Soon to come is hummus and wasabi.
It’s a new Arab food business in Brazil, but it’s also a socially conscious project. Running thigs is Sheila Mann, a Lebanese-born Jew who’s lived in Brazil since age 18. Sheila is a fine artist and a chef specializing in Lebanese cuisine. In 2010, she launched a project named Peace On The Table. The goal was to gather people like Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims around the same table.
Sheila carries out a number of initiatives under the Peace On The Table umbrella. Last August, she decided to take a new step. She partnered up with her son-in-law and partner, the Argentine businessman Marcos Shayo, to open Com.Pot. The bylaws put forth that only women will be hired, and that they’ll be from multiple religious walks of life. They also stipulate that all proceeds will be donated to social peace- and welfare-oriented efforts in Brazil.
Sheila handles creation of new recipes and advertisement. Shayo runs the actual business. The hummus is sold in 200 gram pots and the shelf life is five weeks. It’s currently available from emporiums and grocery stores in São Paulo. Talks are ongoing to sell in Rio de Janeiro as well. Additionally, 500 grams and 1 kg packs are sold to restaurants and bars.
The chef is aware that chickpeas – the base ingredient in hummus – are not widespread n Brazil, and so she’s working on promotion. “It’s very healthy, it’s gluten- and lactose-free,” she touts. According to Sheila, chickpeas contain 30% more protein than beans, in addition to containing tryptophan, which boosts serotonin levels. “It’s the grain of happiness,” she says.
Com.Pot plans on increasing consumption of hummus in ways other than as a bread spread, which is what Brazilians are used to. It can also be added to salads or sandwiches or served as a complement for grilled dishes.
The chef-cum-fine artist chose food as a symbol for peace. The hummus business is worth way more for her than simply its market value. “We all need to eat to live, and that alone makes us all equals,” says Sheila, remarking that coexisting with differences is enriching for people. She believes no place could be better for the project than Brazil, what with its tradition of embracing immigrants. “The Arab and Jewish communities live peacefully together here, and we need to export this model of coexistence,” she says.
According to Sheila, the project Peace On The Table, which in Brazil is called Culinária pela Paz (Cuisine for Peace), hasn’t been completed yet, it’s ongoing, and she still has many plans for it. She started turning the idea into action when doing artistic performances in museums. During these opportunities, she would do a pacifist speech and serve Arab food. She is, herself, a symbol of this, since she’s a Jewish woman cooking Arab dishes. The next step was to promote a dinner in which she gathered members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, right before the departure of the Brazilian ambassador Paulo França to Palestine.
Later, after nearly three years, Sheila created a group of Muslim and Jewish women in the city of São Paulo that meets once a month to socialize. There are currently 54 members. They talk about everything, except religious and political issues. The meeting is held each time in a different house. A similar group was found in Rio de Janeiro one year ago, but the meetings are infrequent and take place in restaurants. Around 14 women take part in them.
Sheila follows both groups and carries on with the activity that started Peace On The Table, the lectures on peace followed by preparation of Lebanese food. She would like to expand and gather more often the different dinner groups, but this would require a sponsorship. Her idea is to organize something of a large meeting and turn the around-the-table gathering, with its dialogues and meetings, into a book or movie. She is waiting for someone to become interested in sponsoring the idea.
Sheila was born in Beirut. At 13 years old, she moved with her family to Israel. The move to Brazilian territory took place after she met her former husband, also born in Lebanon. He already lived in Brazil. The chef and artist always had talent for the arts and developed it in her new home, with courses and monitoring from teachers.
Gastronomy came later on. “When I arrived in Brazil, I didn’t even know how to prepare rice,” she says. Sheila’s mother cooked Lebanese food at home, but she only learned to do it in Brazil, getting the recipes by phone, or when she would go back to Israel, or with her mother-in-law, with whom she lived for a year in Brazil. “When I would cook, something happened, there was chemistry,” she says on the reaction of people when eating it. The guests only wanted to eat Lebanese food and thus she started to become an expert.
On May 18, the chef will hold a presentation of the project Culinária pela Paz at the Reseach and Formation Center of the Social Service of Commerce (Sesc) in the city of São Paulo, as part of the seires Culture and Identity in the Arab World. Besides talking about the initiative, she will prepare an Arab dish, which will be offered to the attendees. It takes place in the evening, from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Registration is required.
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Peace On The Table
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*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum and Sérgio Kakitani