TikTokers are sharing Palestinian family recipes to raise money for aid

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

"This is Palestinian falafel, and this is my Palestinian grandmother," TikTok creator Vegan Bodegacat says in a voiceover as her grandmother blends soaked chickpeas with fresh parsley, then scoops the mixture into hot oil, where it quickly browns.

"... I've been spending my days feeling helpless and hopeless, but it's better to focus on small changes and contributions we can make, which is why I'll be donating all the money I make from TikTok over the next few months toward humanitarian aid efforts in Gaza."

The falafel video went viral, so she made another video with a recipe for stuffed squash. That one also went viral, so next, she shared her grandmother's recipe for grape leaves. The trend continued.

"The three videos I have of my grandma's recipes are at over a million views each now," Vegan Bodegacat told TechCrunch. "Each one of them has raised about $1,000."

TikTok payouts usually aren't this high, but this week, the platform announced it would be shifting its monetization model to the new Creativity Program, which had been testing in beta with some creators, like Vegan Bodegacat. The new program only allows creators to monetize videos longer than one minute, sparking concern for some, but in Vegan Bodegacat's case, the new model came at the perfect time.

"I do a lot of mutual aid and community aid on my page, and one of the things that I do a lot is fill community fridges in my neighborhood," she said. "Those videos would sometimes pop off and get over a million views, and I'd make like $5, versus these videos that I've been getting over a million views on have made $1000 each."

Atop each of her videos, she overlays text urging viewers not to scroll away -- the longer people watch, the more money she gets from TikTok. She hasn't solidified her donation plans yet, but is looking at causes like Anera, an American non-profit with on-the-ground staff in Gaza who are distributing food and hygeine kits to displaced people. She is also considering the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, which provides medical care to children in need.

Around the same time, a Cuban-American chef who goes by The Unprofessional Chef online started making similar videos, sharing Palestinian recipes in an effort to raise money for aid causes in Gaza.

"I've always cooked food from different cultures, but more importantly, I married into a Palestinian family, and they have a good variety of family recipes and meals that as a family, we'll center around at the dinner table," he told TechCrunch.

When the current war between Israel and Hamas broke out, he was at a loss as to how to use his platform.

"Palestine is going through a huge humanitarian crisis right now, and with that, you have to get creative with how you can support right now," the Unprofessional Chef told TechCrunch. "l already have this channel that is monetized, and I already have a following that wants to see unique food. So I thought it was a perfect fit to bring some awareness to the Palestinian culture while being able to do what I can to raise money and donate as well."

In one video, he films from above his stove's range hood, alternating between shots of him dancing goofily and boiling chickpeas to make hummus. In another, he shows how he strains yogurt to make labneh. Aside from raising money, he hopes to humanize the people who have been impacted by the war.

"On either side, Israeli or Palestinian, these people are not just numbers," he said. "These are humans with very rich culture and backgrounds."

Since Vegan Bodegacat and the Unprofessional Chef both already made content about food, sharing family recipes was a natural move. But other kinds of creators have stepped up as well.

Jourdan Louise, an augmented reality creator, made a interactive filters displaying watermelons, which are a symbol of Palestinian resistance. As part of TikTok's Effect Creator Rewards program, she can monetize effects that get used in over 200,000 TikToks. In just a few days, the filter has been used over 500,000 times, and she plans to donate the money she'll earn from its success.

"In the last few days, I've seen more videos on Palestine, and I came across two videos that were utilizing the Creativity Program beta to raise money," Jourdan Louise told TechCrunch. "That sparked this idea to create a filter."

Some viewers responded by pointing out the morbidly surreal nature of using a TikTok filter to raise money for humanitarian aid, and Jourdan Lousie acknowledges that. But she still believes that any contribution she can make is worth it.

"Anything we can do to help is appreciated, and I think is impactful," she told TechCrunch. "If you're not in a place to donate money yourself, then there's ways you can generate it, and a filter just so happens now to be one of those ways."