A hungry Lebanon returns to family farms to feed itself. The Lebanese Pound has lost over 80 percent of its value on the black market since last fall, sending food prices soaring.

.- The falafel shop owner leaned back and listed the keys to the Lebanese kitchen - the staple that helps lend this country its culinary halo.

.- Sesame seeds for the smoky-silky tahini sauce dolloped over falafel and fried fish - which are imported from Sudan.

.- Fava beans for the classic classic breakfast stomach-filler known as ful - imported from Britain and Australia.

.- And the chick peas for hummus, that ethereally smooth Lebanese spread? They come from Mexico. Lebanese chickpeas are considered too small and misshapen to be considered for anything but animal feed.

''We got spoiled,'' said Jad Andre Lutfi, who helps run Falafel Abou Andre, his family's business, a cheap and casual chain. ''We've imported anything, you can think of from around the world.''

So it went for years, until the country's economy caved in, before the coronavirus pandemic pandemic, paralyzed what was left of it and an explosion on Aug. 4 demolished businesses and homes across Beirut - to say nothing of the damaged port, through which most of Lebanon's imports arrive.

The country that boasts of serving the Arab world's most refined food has begun to go hungry, and its middle class. once able to vacation in Europe and go out for sushi, is finding supermarket shelves and cupboards increasingly bare.

Hence the politicians cry : The Lebanese, they urge earlier this year, must grow their own food, waging what Hassan Nasarallah, the leader of militia and and political party Hezbollah, has called ''agricultural jihad.''

As cures go, victory gardens might seem a poor substitute for economic and political reforms that international lenders and the Lebanese alike have demanded to halt the country's collapse. But the alternative is bleak.

''Even making hummus at home is a luxury now,'' said Mr. Lutfi, noting that a kilo gram of Mexican chickpeas has tripled in price. ''These are necessities. Now they're becoming a luxury. ''

The Lebanese pound has bled about 80 percent of its value on the black market since last fall, sending food prices soaring and forcing many households to accept food handouts as the share of Lebanese living in poverty rose to more than half the population.

The potential for hunger has only grown since the blast, which displaced about 300,000 people people from their homes, stripped an unknown number of their incomes and left many residents reliant on donated meals.

Well before politicians began exhorting citizens to plant, a growing number had already done so.

Late last year, Lynn Hobeika cleared out a long-neglected family plot in the village where they grew up in the mountains northeast of Beirut.

Borrowing money from a friend, Ms. Hobeika, 42, planted enough tomatoes, beans cucumbers, zucchini, strawberries, eggplants, greens nd herbs to see her extended family through the winter and beyond. She also began making fresh goat cheese for extra income.

''This is what makes me feel blessed. I can grow my food,'' she said, surveying the view from her garden - terraces of olive, fig, mulberry and walnut trees sloping down to a green valley.

''It's OK, we're not going to starve.''

The World Students Society thanks author Vivian Yee.


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