“You know what I did? I left troops to take the oil. I took the oil. The only troops I have are taking the oil, they’re protecting the oil. I took over the oil.”

  • Quand la France luttait contre la non-linéarité du repas levantin.

    Karl reMarks : Deconstructing the Theoretical Currents in Middle Eastern* Food

    However, the major food conflict in the 18th century was sparked off by Napoleon’s campaigns in the Levant. The rationalist emperor was incensed by the locals’ way of serving mezzeh dishes haphazardly with no clear order or sequence. As he wrote in one of his letters to his wife: “sometimes the hummus comes first, sometimes the tabbouleh, and one is lost for he does not know what to expect. I miss you very much.” The chaotic way of serving food as it became ready was an affront to the Emperor’s Enlightenment values, and he thought that his attempt to modernise the Levant had to start with altering this non-linear way of serving food.

    Napoleon recruited his chief food theorist Vincent Mangetout to wage his battle against the randomness of mezzeh. Mangetout set out to work, writing a pamphlet lambasting this practice and attributing the backwardness of the people of the Levant to this non-sequential way of serving food. “Much like night follows day, it is the natural order of things to have a definite rhythm. The three-course French meal is the purest representation of this rational order, man stamping his authority on the world through reason and discipline.”

    The pamphlet enraged locals from Syria to Lebanon to Palestine. Local circles were formed to organise opposition to Napoleon’s draconian reforms, and civic disobedience followed. Extremists took to eating their dessert first but they were criticised for being unnecessarily dramatic. Amidst the turmoil, a group of Lebanese thinkers influenced by European ideas yet keen to emphasise their own identity, found a compromise. The meal would begin with the mezzeh, but then progress to the main course and later fruits and desserts. As a result, people eating Lebanese food to this day still find that they are too full when the main course, usually grilled meat, arrives, but they are too shy to admit it so they try to force down a few morsels.