Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014c

Gastrodiplomacy

Food is a vital part of a nations identity. This can be observed by the fact that every nation has dish that represents it, emphasised by phrases like ‘as American as apple pie’, when we talk about a country we usually draw connections to their cuisine. [1]People often identify with their national dishes or traditional family recipes and miss those and regional products when they are abroad. However often the origin of a dish is unclear (for example Dolma, which is eaten in varying forms from central Asia to the Balkans and from north Africa to Russia) and there are often outdated prejudice about the gastronomic culture of other countries. While the British are known for bad food, Bavarians are known for beer and pretzels, these are only prejudices based on stereotype. It might be true that traditional pub food is not appealing for everyone, but the number of gourmet restaurants offering food from all over the world is paralleled with that of other gastronomy capitals of the world and while no one could imagine Oktoberfest without beer and pretzels and Weißwurscht (only invented in 1857[2]) , Bavarian dishes representing the culinary culture of the region better include the Schweinsbraten (pork roast) usually served with Sauerkraut and Knödel, which is traditionally eaten on Sundays, and the Schweinshaxe usually served with sauerkraut and potato mash or roast potatoes.[3] (an entertaining blogpost about Bavarian cuisine can be found here)

‘Culinary diplomacy is defined by Sam Chapple-Sokol “as the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hope of improving interactions and cooperation.”[4] Gastronomy has always been recognized to play a part in entertaining foreign diplomats and envoys. However until recently the relationship between food and diplomacy was rather passive. While private culinary diplomacy, negotiations and conversations while sharing a meal or drink, used to dominate in the past, the focus now is on public culinary diplomacy as a part of cultural diplomacy. The main idea behind this concept is “nations employing their culinary distinctiveness to appeal to foreign publics.”[5] It is argued that little known countries which are lacking a well-respected image, by promoting their cuisine can attract international attention.[6] While food certainly has the potential to put little known countries on the map, gastro diplomacy’s has the potential to spread knowledge about the countries’ culture and traditions is uncertain. Moreover it is highly questionable whether food has the power to change peoples conceptions of a certain country or that gastro diplomacy can have a clear impact on policy. Like in other areas of public diplomacy, success is hard to measure.

A case study conducted by Braden Ruddy has come to the conclusion “that food does have the potential to change public perceptions of national image” it also finds that “out of the range of potential benefits to arise from changing public perception through food, the potential to increase tourism was the most pronounced and tangible for countries.” Thailand discover the potential of gastro diplomacy and the first nation to launch a campaign based on the concept, many argue it was also the most successful nation of implementing “gastro diplomacy. The Global Thai campaign aimed at increasing the number of Thai restaurants around the world with the goal to “not only introduce deliciously Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it could subtly help to deepen relations with other countries.” (the economist) The initiative additionally aimed at ensuring a certain standard of Thai cuisine abroad by introducing a brand to certify restaurants. Thailand’s success inspired other such as south-Korea to follow suit. The Korean campaign ‘Korean Cuisine to the Word’ aims at increasing the number of Thai restaurants as well as making Korean one of the most popular ethic cuisines. [7] Taiwan also launched a gastro diplomacy with the aim to “differentiate the country from its giant and sometimes antagonistic neighbour, China, and to end the perception that Taiwan is little more than a mass-production workshop at the end of the world.”  It is not surprising that ,as another south-east Asian middle-power, Malaysia also joined the “gastro diplomacy” club.

While gastro diplomacy is thought to be most useful for small to middle-sized countries, superpowers like the United States also engaged in it in 2012 the diplomatic culinary partnership was launched. http://m.state.gov/md197375.htm. The campaign is endorsed by Hillary Clinton, however her outlook on the potential of gastro diplomacy might be a bit to positive.

Surprisingly another superpower, that is known around the world for its gourmet food, France is also concerned about gastro diplomacy. The video below addresses why a nation known for excellent food sees the need to engage in gastro diplomacy.

Two noteworthy “gastro diplomacy” projects are the Turkish Coffee Truck, that toured the United states before taking up Europe and provides free Turkish coffee with the aim to provide information on the history of topic and share the traditions that go hand in hand with enjoying coffee in turkey and the Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, which only serves food from countries that are in conflict with the united states. Previously the conflict kitchen served food from Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela and at the moment the focus is on food, culture and politics from Palestine. Cultural dialogue is encouraged by events, performances, publications, and discussions organized by the conflict kitchen.

While “gastro diplomacy” initiated by the government often has a top-down approach and can easily seem to be a form of tourism promotion rather than a way to promote open dialogue about cultures or raise awareness for hot topics, private or partly state funded projects such as the Turkish coffee truck or the conflict kitchen have potential to provide historical context as well as encourage and stimulate cultural dialogue.

[1] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[2] http://www.fleischwerke-zimmermann.de/geschichte_der_weisswurst.php

[3] http://www.germanfoodguide.com/bayern.cfm

[4] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[5] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[6] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

[7] Culinary diplomacy the hague journal

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2 thoughts on “Gastrodiplomacy

  1. A very interesting blog and nice to read how gastrodiplomacy is concieved around the world. I found the note on the Conflict Kitchen very interesting, it would be interesting to read more on that, and what effects it might have had and then in exchange maybe focus less on the details of what different kitchens are famous for.
    I liked reading the blog, now I want Turkish coffee!

    Like

  2. ellipeh on said:

    If you liked the part about Conflict Kitchen, you might enjoy this http://firstwefeast.com/eat/peace-truck-middle-east-diplomacy-through-food/ as well. I found it after finishing my blog and found it very interesting.
    Also there is a very nice turkish coffee place directly at piccadilly circus 😉

    Like

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