A Detroit-based start-up is trying to bridge cultural gaps through cuisine. Developed by Mana Heshmati, Peace Meal Kitchen is a pop-up dining series and cultural experience aimed at exploring international communities represented in Detroit.
"The goal is not just to raise awareness of food and culture but to try and educate."
The project is part of an gastrodiplomacy movement, which aims to bring greater awareness about people and culture through food. Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen is perhaps the most well known entity for gastrodiplomacy, gaining fame for raising awareness about countries the U.S. was in conflict with by serving food from those regions alongside performances and educational programs. However, the concept has inspired many similar entities. Heshmati herself says she was partially inspired by Conflict Kitchen's programs. She attended school in Pittsburgh around the time that the restaurant was established. However, unlike the Conflict Kitchen, Heshmati says she hopes the events will "provide a lot of meaning in pulling together various communities and creating a higher level of unity and understanding that does not yet exist."
Heshmati was born in Sweden to Iranian parents and moved to the U.S. when she was three. As a child she moved around the country until finding herself in Metro Detroit. An engineer by day at Ford Motor Company, Heshmati's parents instilled in her a love of food and Persian culture.
After enrolling in an accelerated BUILD program in January, she decided to put her ideas into action by launching Peace Meal Kitchen. Last month, she participated in her first pop-up at All Things Detroit in Eastern Market, offering Persian desserts wrapped in packaging that provided information about Iranian traditions, history, geography, and culture. On April 24 at Our/Detroit, she'll host a more interactive event called Taste of Iran, which will feature similar packaging as well as music and decorations to provide diners a glimpse into the Iranian way of life.
Heshmati describes Peace Meal Kitchen as a low-profit business where 50-percent of the profits will be donated to an organization that benefits people in the highlighted country. She hopes to someday turn the project into a brick-and-mortar community center where she can host cultural events.
Since launching her series, the founder says that she's already receiving interest from people representing diverse communities around Detroit and has a Somali partnership in the works. "The goal is not just to raise awareness of food and culture, but to try and educate, so when someone walks away from the event or a food item that they purchase from us they will have learned something different as well."