"We don't need to argue where hummus comes from. We are here to promote peace.” Michael Rantissi is addressing a room of food-lovers who have gathered to #spreadhummusnothate – the hashtag of a campaign that’s been quietly gathering momentum on social media.
An Insta meet – a gathering of people who often only know each other online - hosted at Sydney's Kepos St Kitchen last week attracted a group of avid Instagrammers keen to broadcast the #spreadhummusnothate message.
The event was the idea of the Kepos St Kitchen's Israeli-born chef, who wanted to provide a platform for Instagrammer Lina Jebeile - @thelebaneseplate - to talk about what it is like to be a Muslim woman in 2017.
"A year ago, I came across Lina on Instagram and I love her food photographs, but I also liked the conversations she was having with her followers," Rantissi tells SBS.
"The event was not political, it was not religious. It's just a way of saying I'm a guy from Israel and here is this Aussie girl who happens to be Muslim and we are all the same. It's about the food and bringing people together and having conversations and it's also about accepting others," he says.
In addressing the intimate group of Instagrammers, Rantissi said: "Everyone argues in the Middle East about who hummus belongs to. It is my belief that it is a dish that belongs to everyone. With me being Israeli and Lina having Middle Eastern heritage, the #spreadhummusnothate event was an opportunity to do something that would be empowering for Sydneysiders to learn about our cultures and our shared culinary heritage and that there is kindness here not hate," says Rantissi.
"We don't need to argue where hummus comes from. We are here to promote peace," he says.
Jebeile, a mother of four who goes by the handle @thelebaneseplate, says she used social media to invite some of her Instagram followers to attend the event in the hope that she would gain new friends and educate Australians on her thoughts on prejudice and staying positive about the future. Jebeile says the hashtag #spreadhummusnothate, which was first used in the US in 2014, also provides her with a digital platform to share with others what it's like to be Muslim Australian in 2017.
"There is still a lot of negativity about Australian Muslims and, as a mother to four, it's become very important to me to help promote peace and understanding to create a better world for my children," says Jebeile, who works part-time as a food photographer.
"When I came across the hashtag a few years ago, it got me thinking. Food can be such a magical medium to break down barriers. I saw it as an empowering event for myself and it was a way to say, 'Hey, we're all the same'," she says.
Those in attendance at the event, which was held a few days after International Hummus Day, included Better Homes & Gardens food editor Elle Vernon @d_elleicious, ex-Masterchef contestant Amina Elshafei, @foodobsessed_blogger_sydney Anna di Giovanni, wellness blogger @brendajanschek and photographer JJ (Jennifer Jenner) of @84thand3rd
The Instagrammers in attendance at the event enjoyed Lina's Beetroot hummus and the Kepos Street Kitchen hummas as well as taboon bread with dukkah and olive oil, za'atar flat bread with goat's labneh, roasted black Angus 100-day aged sirloin and the Tel Aviv falafel with green tahini.
"I felt this event was extraordinary. Hummus is the perfect focal point to create conversations as everyone in the Middle East lays claim to first creating it. In actual fact, hummus belongs to the Turks," says Rantissi.
"People automatically think that because I'm from Israel and Lina's family are from Lebanon we are not going to have a good bond. But we are here to prove them wrong and we are making the world a happier place, one plate of hummus at a time, by celebrating our similarities not our differences," he says.
Lina's next event is with Kogarah Community Services' Community Conversations on June 5, also in Sydney, where she will be presenting a talk on "How food can be used to bring people together".