Food is a powerful tool used to bring people together. It teaches us about culture, history and often times is a language all on its own. History tells us that many adversaries made amends over a meal.
In the realm of public diplomacy, food is used as a component of cultural diplomacy and coined as gastrodiplomacy. This form of soft power is defined by NPR as using food as a tool to foster cultural understanding among countries (Poon, 2014). What is a better way of winning hearts and minds than targeting the stomach!
One of the most renowned gastrodiplomats, Anthony Bourdain stressed the simplicity of food. His excursions around the world gave his viewers a travel diary, history lesson and urge to indulge in the many cuisines all in one episode. Parts Unknown allowed viewers to immerse in a culture, even if it was for just an hour once a week.
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” ― Anthony Bourdain
Countries are recognizing the power in harnessing food for nation branding and tourism. “Gastrodiplomacy uses culinary delights to appeal to the global public’s appetite, and thus helps raise a nation’s brand awareness and reputation” (Rockower, 2011). When you think about it, thousands of people travel to Italy for pasta, pizza and cannolis; meanwhile others flock to France for ratatouille, cheese, wine and my personal favorite macarons. These few generalizations just prove the association between food and a place.
In a recent study in Public Diplomacy Magazine, more than half of the 140 people surveyed said that eating a country’s cuisine led them to think more positively about that country. And more than two-thirds felt that countries in a state of conflict could benefit from gastrodiplomacy programs.
State officials across the world are investing in the power of food. Thailand launched their Global Thai Campaign in which chefs are trained in an array of cultural dishes and given loans to open restaurants. Similar campaigns were launched by Malaysia, South Korea, Peru and so many more.
As Public Diplomacy magazine notes, these countries “have recognized the seductive qualities food can have, and are leveraging this unique medium of cultural diplomacy to increase trade, economic investment, and tourism, as well as to enhance soft power.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assisted in a culinary initiative launched by the Department of State. In 2012, the department’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership announced the implementation of the American Chef Corps. Foreign publics have the opportunity to taste the beauty of America’s melting pot in a way that was not conceived before.
Leave your passport at home and journey around the world with your fork, spoon, spork or hands. We’re all gastrodiplomats in some way, gathering around the dining table could reveal our similarities and embrace our differences!