Palestinian Kufta in the City of Light

Photo1Meet Lara, Paris’ First Meal Sharing Host

For Lara, the world was introduced as a place of inspirational survival stories as well as heart-wrenching accounts of people forced to start their lives over. As one of three daughters in a family of Palestinian refugees, conflicts from across the globe have always been in Lara’s heart.

Lara grew up in Chicago with Palestinian parents, which in itself formed a confluence of experiences. As a college student, Lara studied abroad in Paris, and feel in love with the city. While already having parts of her heart in Palestine, and parts in Chicago, she settled in Paris to fall in love with a new place.

“I have three places in the world that I call home: Chicago, Palestine, and now, Paris. They have nothing to do with each other, but they are equally important to me.”

After learning the language and studying abroad in France, Lara completed her master’s degree in European Law, and is now working as an attorney. Food adventures keep her constantly entertained in the City of Lights, but her roots are never far from her heart—or her plate. One of the greatest ways Lara has been exploring her heritage is through food. Meal Sharing has provided Lara with a way to meet people in her new found home of Paris, and share an ancient part of her heritage.

Having never lived in Palestine, Lara reaches out in different ways to connect with that part of herself. “Since my parents were refugees, I never got to know the culture in the intimate way you do when you grow up there. I love getting to know more through the food!” Often Lara will call relatives for recipes, or check online for meal insights from Palestinians around the globe.

Her childhood was full of cultural idiosyncrasies between American ways and Palestinian tradition . Small events, such as sleepovers, were banned for Lara and her sisters. She jokes, “I think when my mother first got here, she watched too much Oprah, and saw a lot of ‘stranger danger’ announcements, and just thought to herself, ‘America must be so dangerous!”” Now, when Lara interacts with Parisians she tends to feel American, but when she hosts or shares a meal her Palestinian roots begin to show.

Another conflict between Palestinian and American cultures that affected Lara was the differing pace of each lifestyle. The welcoming, family-oriented Middle Eastern culture contrasted sharply with the fast, busy lifestyles of Americans. In an effort to get to know her other side a bit better, Lara visited Palestine for a month through the Interfaith Peace Builders organization, a group that focuses on educating Americans about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through travel and lessons from experts. When recounting her month in Palestine, she says, “I met so many wonderful people that took me into their homes. I experienced firsthand the hospitality that Palestinians are so well known for, and it is the same hospitality that inspires me to continue Meal Sharing.”

Lara strongly identifies with her American roots as well. “American culture is varied, and so full of opportunity! The belief that life can be anything you want it to be is really uniquely American.” This explorative optimism combined with her already varied upbringing is also what led her to seek adventures on her own by moving somewhere completely new and exciting.

As the first Paris-based host, Lara is proud to be Mealsharing in a city obsessed with food. The dishes Lara serves reflect her diverse heritage: culturally varied, explorative and flavourful. Lara has found that the immigrants she meets on the streets of Paris differ significantly from the immigrant groups that populate Chicago, and assimilating into Parisian culture has proved somewhat less romantic than the movies make it out to be. The people of Paris tend to be much more private than Americans, and seem downright suspicious in comparison to Palestinians. Meal Sharing has been a great way to ease the transition—after all, there’s no better way to get to know people than to share a meal with them!

Her views of the world are constantly being redefined to include new experiences and horizons. “There’s a hunger inside people like me, like my sisters, to have new experiences, to create new connections that might not otherwise be made. But it’s not a “dream” to jet off, because there are always sacrifices, things left behind, no matter how great a new place is. Having said that, starting over is something that is extremely valuable, and is a chance one should always take if possible.”

Lara’s next adventure is once again, food-related. In Paris is an “everyday-a-new-chef” restaurant working on a rotation system that allows anyone to create a menu and if selected, act as chef for a night. The winner serves their menu all day. Sous chefs stock the kitchen with necessary ingredients and provide their expertise in preparing the meal while the winner oversees the entire kitchen process. Lara aims to apply for the position, so she can once againshare her culture through food for a night. In her words, “How cool would it be to make a Palestinian meal, as an American, in Paris for a night? I’d love to do that!”

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