LONDON - An international peacebuilding organization recently held its annual dining experience in London focusing on issues surrounding the Philippines.
This year’s edition of Conflict Café, an annual pop-up restaurant set up by NGO International Alert six years ago, took place at foodie hub Flat Iron Square on September 21.
Homemade Filipino food was on the menu for the 55 diners in attendance, as well as discussions about the history of the Philippines, causes behind conflict, and possible solutions for the future.
“Peacebuilding can be a difficult concept to explain but we found that food offers a great entry point,” explained International Alert spokesperson Julia Karlysheva.
“We designed Conflict Café to be an interactive experience, bringing people together around communal tables, where each diner sits next to a stranger. While they enjoy dishes from carefully-selected menus, diners also hear stories about the culture, history and conflict in the country or region where the food comes from, as well as opportunities for peace,” she added.
Conflict Cafe, which had previously held events centered on countries like Syria, Colombia and Sri Lanka, selected the Philippines this year to shed light on long-standing issues that have shaped the nation’s course.
“People may have heard of the current Philippines administration’s war on drugs. But what many don’t realize is that peace and prosperity have been destabilized in the country for decades - by ethnic, political and economic violence, by conflict with Muslim and communist rebellions, and more recently, extremism, as demonstrated by the 2017 violence in Marawi City,” Karlysheva said.
“And while there is conflict, there are also reasons for hope – for instance the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which grants wider autonomy and self-rule to Muslim Mindanao in the South and is crucial for ending the conflict in the region,” she added.
Diners were served a three-course meal – which included beef kare-kare and buko pie with ube ice cream – prepared by British-Filipino pop-up chef Mark Corbyn of The Adobros, alongside his mother Joy Edna Corbyn.
“The dishes were chosen to reflect the diversity of the food in the Philippines as well as to bring some of the renowned hospitality of the region to diners,” Corbyn said.
“These are family favorite dishes and also very popular with supper club guests,” he added.
Some guests had already been to the Philippines but were unaware of the country’s past and current situation.
“I went to the Philippines in 2015. I had delicious food and met lovely people, so I thought it would be interesting to come here, to sample both the food and learn more about the history,” said Liz, a Canadian who has been living in London for the past six years.
Londoner Phoenix, meanwhile, said: “I’ve been to the Philippines once before, had a great time, had some great food. And I came here to enjoy some more delicious food. The beef kare-kare looks incredible!”
“I am always surprised just how long this conflict has lasted – 50 or 60 years – that’s something you can often forget. It reminds you that conflicts in the present often have deep roots and legacies,” he added.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting people the most. I didn’t think it would be so full,” said Vamshi, from New York, who previously didn’t know much about the southeast Asian nation.
“I was also surprised by the history and the reasons for the conflict. I was so unaware of it before,” she added.
International Alert has been working in the Philippines since 1988, helping to “lay the foundations for locally-owned, inclusive and sustainable peace and development.”
The peacebuilding NGO has developed a conflict monitoring system that aids in mitigating conflict and addresses a range of issues, like mediation between clan feuds over access to natural resources, as well as political protests.
In partnership with foodie app Eatwith and supported by Flat Iron Square, Conflict Cafe Philippines ran as part of the Talking Peace Festival a series of events coinciding with International Peace Day.