Let's talk about hummus for a second.
Yes, hummus. The smooth garlicky, lemony spread and dip that's a staple of both Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine.
Hummus also has a deep cultural significance. It's been bringing people together for centuries.
A group of people sitting around a bowl of hummus is a familiar sight basically anywhere in the world. There's just something about those blended chickpeas that brings people to the table — pita bread and baby carrots in hand — ready to smile and eat.
Kobi Tzafrir, a restaurant proprietor in Israel, knows all about the power of hummus, and he decided to put it to the ultimate test.
He's offering a 50% discount at his restaurant, the Hummus Bar, in Tel Aviv, on any meal shared between a Jew and an Arab. Why?
Here's a bit of background:
For hundreds of years, Arab Muslims and Israeli Jews have been at odds in a tense political and religious conflict. It's so complex and deeply entrenched in both cultures that explaining it would probably take all week. You can actually get a master's degree in it.
The biggest thing you need to know, though, is that this conflict isn't just a quibble. It's a cultural war that has claimed thousands of lives. In fact, recent outbursts of violence are part of what sparked Kobi Tzafrir's idea.
He thought that if he could get people together for a meal, they might realize they're not so different.
After all, pretty much everyone likes hummus.
"If you eat a good hummus, you will feel love from the person who made it," Tzafrir said in an NPR interview. "You don't want to stab him."
Can a dip solve a historic and bloody conflict? Maybe. Maybe not.
The idea is an experiment that has, so far, granted at least 10 pairs of people a discount during the last month. It's a small start, but for Tzafrir, the important thing is demonstrating to his country and the world that things can change.
"We hear a lot of extremists on the news, on Facebook, on TV, and it seems like everything here is very bad," Tzafrir told NPR. "But I wanted to show that everything here is not so bad. Things get out of proportion."
Tzafrir has been getting praise for the idea from people as far as Japan, and he says that business is up by at least 20%.
But does "food diplomacy" even work?
Well, that depends. Have you ever sat down for a meal with someone you disagreed with? Even if you didn't come to an agreement, you probably both shut up for a second to eat, right?
Believe it or not, even that little piece of common ground can be a key factor in changing people's minds.
In 2011, Psychology professor David Desteno wrote about the power of common ground in The Boston Globe:
"One key factor that shapes our judgment is a surprisingly simple one: how much we see the person we’re judging as similar to us. New findings are suggesting that this similarity doesn’t have to involve anything as obvious as being part of the same group or family. It can be something as subtle as wearing similar colored shirts or wristbands. In fact, in a new experiment, my colleague Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have shown that morality can be influenced even by simply tapping your hands in time with someone else’s."
We've already seen food's ability to peacefully cross cultural barriers.
When Thailand and South Korea wanted to improve their standing with other countries around the world, they started with food. Bringing their cuisine to a wider global audience helped people around the world get to know a little bit of their culture and, in turn, improved global relationships.
And remember President Obama's Beer Summit? Or the Wichita Police Department's recent BBQ with Black Lives Matter activists? Sure, these things obviously didn't solve every race problem in America, but bringing people together peacefully is a lot better than yelling, cursing, and killing.
The Arabs and Jews who sit together at Hummus Bar will probably experience more than just a discounted meal — and that's the point.
At that table in that restaurant ... there will be peace. And there will be hummus.