Friday, June 15, 2007

Culinary Justice?

While the media has trumpeted Liberian warlord Charles Taylor's boycott of his trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, seated in the Hague, one interesting morsel has gone relatively unnoticed: Taylor's boycott of Dutch food. Maybe Taylor just doesn't like the cheese, buttermilk, and bread diet offered at the Dutch prison -- or perhaps he's trying to make a statement about the neo-colonial implications of holding and trying an African leader in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the ICC staff responsible for the conditions of Taylor's detention played right into his hands, joking that Taylor should not expect fresh fish from the Nile. Nor would he in Liberia, which is almost 3000 miles from the Nile, the approximate distance between the Hague and Tashkent.
Even when seated in their home country, hybrid tribunals have been the site of serious food fights. In the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, it was the court staff who battled over the culinary choices, with Cambodian staff complaining that they would "die in two days" if forced to dine on a Western menu, including goat cheese salad, in their cafeteria. But after a Cambodian caterer took over, offering local favorites such as snail curry, the international staff complained of food poisoning, and some began to bring their lunches from home.
So what's the solution? Should we force indicted war criminals tried far from home to eat the food they're given, and be thankful for it? Certainly not where there is a religious objection, but is an unfamiliar diet otherwise just deserts? Or should we create specialized menus to suit everyone's tastes? Imagine the grocery bills, let alone the difficulty finding a cook! Perhaps everyone should just cook for themselves, like the ICTY suspects who prepare Balkan food together? But then what's to stop them from stabbing each other with their kitchen knives? While you chew on this quandary of international culinary justice, I'll be eating my french fries like a good American . . .

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