And Where Does Lebanon Stand On Syria?

Lebanon's recent history has long been inextricably linked to its northern neighbor. In the face of Damascus' crackdown on a popular uprising, the current pro-Hezbollah government has been loathed to criticize the Syrian regime. But the

The Lebanon-Syria border (Paul Keller)
The Lebanon-Syria border (Paul Keller)
Laure Stephan

BEIRUT- Perched on the pedestal of the Martyrs' statue in central Beirut, a group of young men are waving Lebanese flags, and Syrian ones too. "Freedom, freedom!," they chant. "Lebanese people and Syrian people are one!" Soon after, they start shouting the names of the cities attacked the past few days by the Baathist regime's latest offensive.

The slogans and city names are chanted by a crowd of no more than 100 people who have come to show their support to Syrian people. The turnout may seem small, but it is the biggest demonstration in Beirut against violence in Syria since the beginning of the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in March.

"The atmosphere of fear, the weight of organized religions and fears of the Baathist regime had until now prevented the mobilization from growing," says the writer Elias Khoury with a rose in one hand and a candle in the other one. He is among a small group of Lebanese intellectuals who called on the nation to break the silence about repression in Syria "that has become a crime against Syrian people."

The small crowd controlled by a strict security operation was a reminder of how the previous demonstration of support ended up with fights between pro and anti Assad camps. It is also a reminder of how complicated the issue of Syria continues to be in Lebanon, its smaller neighbor to the southwest.

"Actions and Reactions in Lebanon as the Situation in Syria Dictates' was a recent front-page headline in Al-Balad, an Arabic-language daily. The title does well to sum up the situation in Lebanon, a country whose deep religious and political fractures inevitably seep back and forth across the Syrian border.

The issue came to the fore after last week's UN Security Council declaration condemning the regime's repression against demonstrators. Disassociating itself from the United Nations' text, Lebanon, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, chose to sit out the vote, sparking the opposition's criticism of the government in Beirut, which is dominated by a pro-Hezbollah faction with ties to Damascus. (All diplomatic eyes will be on Lebanon at the end of August when it takes over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council.)

Saudi role

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati defended the government's position, saying it "won't interfere in Syria's domestic affairs." Miqati characterized violence in Syria as "sad," and asked political leaders to "stop using events occurring in Syria for political purposes."

The comments were an implicit accusation of the party of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. A close ally of Saudi Arabia (a country that has recently denounced the regime's violence against the Syrian people), Hariri has strongly criticized the Lebanese government's views on the issue. "The government cannot hide the massacre going on inside its closest Arab neighbor," the former prime minister said in a statement.

Meanwhile, inside Lebanon, the divisions over Syria are visible everywhere. Depending on their allegiance, news outlets relay Damascus' version blaming "armed gangs' for the chaos, or back the demonstrators as a popular "uprising." The wider society in Lebanon is also split: while both personal sympathy towards Syrian people and the fear of seeing a civil war cross into Lebanon are shared by many, views on the situation still break down along religious or ideological lines.

Many Christians, who in 2005 were quick to denounce the Syrian occupation in Lebanon, fear that the situation in Damascus weakens Lebanon's overall standing in the Middle East. On the other hand, the Shiite community continues to see Hezbollah as its guarantor on the national scene, fearing the fall of the Syrian regime could isolate them in Lebanon.

A series of recent incidents such as a Syrian boat attack against Lebanese fishermen, the July 26 attack against French UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) troops, and tensions along the Israeli border reinforce the fear that Lebanon has a way of becoming the crossroads of all the Middle East's most intractable problems.

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Photo- Paul Keller

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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