What is in a name?

Jane Jeffes
Recipe by Jane Jeffes

Jane Jeffes is a producer and director and former head of ABC Religion & Ethics. A UK-Australian dual national she is based in Sydney, Australia.

Recipes For Ramadan. After The First Date. An Invitation to A Virtual Iftar. A Celebration of Australian-Muslim Culture and History. Hearing Our Ancestors Voices. Who Do You Think You Are? Parts Unknown. Back In Time For Dinner. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Come Dine With Me…. What’s in a name?

The project, in which AMUST has been the community media partner, uses food to tell stories that unlock and share Australian-Muslim culture, heritage and identity through the food we eat, the conversations we have and the stories and histories we carry with us.  

It also celebrates the significance and meaning of Ramadan, of fasting and sharing of food and wealth.  And explores what it is to be Australian in 2020 when more than 50% of us were born overseas or have one or more parent born overseas, and have family ties and emotional ties to our ancestral homelands.

An idea for a four- or five-part TV series, the impact of COVID-19 on Ramadan 2020 transformed it at short notice into an online community project and an invitation to an alternative iftar.

Whilst it was not possible to invite extended family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to iftar at home, it was possible to share food and conversation online through recipes and stories and to build relationships, community and a wider understanding of Muslim faith and practice in a different way.

From a standing start 10 days ahead of Ramadan, Recipes for Ramadan took on a life of its own with Amity College, Unity Grammar, Together for Humanity, Gaza Children’s Fund, Canterbury Bankstown Council, Cumberland Council, Tender Loving Care Disability Services, Seena Inc (AMUST’s publisher), and Hazen Agency throwing their support behind it and collaborating.

Every good meal is a mix of good company, good food and great conversation and this ‘virtual iftar’ has been that – with the stories every bit as important if not more important than the food.

We met our target of 30 recipes online by Eid – one for every night and iftar in Ramadan. Some of the accompanying stories still need to be finalised and published and there are 15 or 20 more contributions in the pipeline, representing as many different cultures as possible. (And requests from as far away as the USA, UK, Japan, Dubai and Venezuela to contribute too.)

We ran a couple of wonderful events – one socially distanced, one a Facebook Live Zoom Iftar. We produced and are producing short videos – some with amazing Instagram foodie influencers Lina Jebeile (@thelebaneseplate), Fatimah Omaran (@fatimahomran_) Walla Abu-eid (@walla_abueid) and The Sharouk Sisters; some edits of home footage that contributors took in their own homes… And we will be rolling out social media for several weeks.

People really seem to have enjoyed it: Contributing, reading, trying recipes, learning about others’ families and countries and cultures. SBS and the ABC has reported on it.

But what next? Everyone’s asking will it end now Ramadan is over? The answer is we hope not!

The central idea remains true: meeting over food is one of the best ways to get to know other people and to confide things about ourselves, our stories, our family background, where we’re from, where we’ve been, what we feel about our ancestry and our family near and far, our culture, our faith, what interests us, what we worry about….

When we sit over food, we talk for longer, open up more, relax with each other, share more. Trust and friendship develop. Families, friends, communities bond preparing food and eating food.

Sharing recipes and stories online has been a way of doing this in lieu of doing it face to face. And when we can’t travel it’s provided an introduction – another invitation – to parts unknown, a way to travel back in time and to distant lands, and learn about places and people we wouldn’t otherwise meet.

That doesn’t need to stop and shouldn’t stop. It may be that there isn’t a mainstream broadcaster to commission a series in Australia but there are other avenues to explore…

Teachers at the schools have asked if they can integrate the idea into their curriculum. Perhaps more Muslim schools might like to participate ahead of next year’s Ramadan.

Together For Humanity, the educational not-for-profit which works with schools to develop young people’s pride and confidence in their own faith and traditions and their skills in intercultural and interfaith dialogue, is interested to explore how more schools might participate.  Perhaps as an interschools project. Perhaps with other faith schools? Perhaps with public schools?

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