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.


Mmmmmmmmm. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images.

Whether a Sabra fan or a Tribe enthusiast or a make-your-own purist, it's hard to find someone who doesn't like the delicious creamy taste of hummus.

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.

Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

Kobi Tzafrir at the Hummus Bar. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

Police Sergeant James Crowley and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. with President Obama and Vice President Biden in 2009. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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