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A record-breaking national obsession

August 29 was a good day for Lebanon, as 25 women made kibbeh in Ehden. But not just any kibbeh; they made one that mixed 120 kilos of mince meat, 80 liters of olive oil, 80 kilos of cracked wheat, five kilos of salt and a kilo of pepper in a twenty square-meter dish that weighed 223 kilograms. Aside from plausibly feeding the entire town, the giant meat pie did what it was intended to do; break a Guinness World Record.
 
True, given that few countries outside the Arab world are acquainted with the traditional meat dish and even fewer motivated to cook it in enormous proportions, a world record in kibbeh is perhaps not as remarkable a feat as, say, a record-sized loaf of bread or any similar global dietary staple.
 
Nonetheless, for a few days following the feat the international press seemed to forget Lebanon’s normally much-publicized flaws. In place of noting the country’s failure to form a new government nearly three months after the June 7 elections, the Yahoo News item Lebanon that day reported: “Lebanon town makes mincemeat of world record”.
 
Perhaps in need of multiple public-relations boosts, however short-term they may be, the country has successfully broken multiple Guinness world records over the years. While some could be construed as viable benchmarks of personal success – such as Hazem El Masri scoring the most individual points in an international rugby league match in 1999 and Randy Nahle becoming the youngest series writer in 2000 when he was then only 14 years old – the importance of many other Lebanese world records is open to question.

They do, however, reveal an unsurprising fixation on aesthetics or size, such as making or finding the “largest” things. Ambitious Lebanese made the largest floor lamp in 2003, and then the largest bar chimes a year later. In 2008, the country broke the record for building the largest hotel suite and finding the largest potato, while this year Lebanon created the world’s largest book.
 
The country’s preoccupation with super-sized culinary feats did not begin with Ehden’s kibbeh, but with tabbouleh in 2001, when the country made the salad in record-breaking proportions in Qornet Shehwan. While close followers of Lebanese politics will associate the municipality as the home of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering – the now defunct political coalition that held a substantial bloc of 14 seats in the 2005 parliament – it is safe to assume that many more Lebanon aficionados are likely to tote its other claim to fame. After all, the town held the world record for five years before an even larger cracked wheat and parsley salad was created by Ramallah residents in 2006
 
This may be a sensitive national topic, as in October 2008 the Lebanese Society of Industrialists moved to trademark several dishes including tabbouleh, hummus and falafel, following a precedent set by Greece in 2002 by which the country won the exclusive legal rights to Feta cheese distributed in the European Union. The Lebanese qualm was mainly against Israel, who a few months prior to the Lebanese Society of Industrialist’s announcement celebrated their Independence Day by making the world’s largest bowl of hummus in Jerusalem.  This certainly did not go unnoticed by Lebanon, a country that holds both the chickpea dish and world records in equally high esteem.
 
Participating in a world record is resume-boosting material here. Take for example painter, sculptor and poet Rudy Rahme. Among the several achievements his resume boasts, such as receiving the National Cedars Award from the community-service oriented International Association of Lions Clubs, Rahme also notes having been “mentioned in Guinness World Records for Monumental sculpture Lamartine Cedar in the cedars forest” in 2007.
 
Even politicians have taken note of the national obsession with world records. In the wake of the deadlock over the cabinet formation, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, whose disagreement with the March 14 majority over the distribution of government seats extended the crisis, evoked the almost-holy book to illustrate the severity of political problem. 
 
“The ‘Aoun knot’ made Guinness, whose officials contacted me to see if they could include it as the world’s biggest obstacle,” Naharnet quoted Aoun jokingly telling viewers of his television channel OTV two weeks ago.