Culinary diplomacy : prospects for enhancing public diplomacy

13342179_10207743254437325_275880249_nBy Shree Krishna Silwal—

Typically, diplomacy is regarded as the management and adjustments of international relations by negotiation. It is also regarded as the tool/instrument for implementing foreign policy of a state.

Formal Diplomacy happens at the government-to-government level that goes through formal, traditional channels to communicate with foreign governments (written documents, meetings, summits, diplomatic visits). While there are other modes of diplomacy through informal channels- generally referred to as Public diplomacy.

According to Malone, public diplomacy can be defined as “direct communication with foreign peoples, with the aim of affecting their thinking and, ultimately, that of their governments.” Public diplomacy can also be understood as the way in which both government and private individuals and groups influence directly or indirectly those public attitudes and opinions which bear directly on another government’s foreign policy decisions.

Public diplomacy is carried out by both diplomats and, under their programs and supports, non-officials such as academic scholars, journalists, experts in various fields, members of non-governmental organizations, public figures such as state and local government officials, and social activists. There is a unique form of diplomacy gaining popularity in recent years that revolves entirely around food. And the new term of diplomacy is Culinary Diplomacy.

Concept of culinary diplomacy

In the 18th-century, Jean Brillat-Savarin said, “The destiny of nations depends on how they nourish themselves.” Food is, of course, one of the oldest tools in the diplomat’s kit, but it has only recently been examined in that way.

Culinary diplomacy is a type of cultural diplomacy, which itself is a subset of public diplomacy. Its basic premise is that “the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach.” The term has been in use since the early 2000s, and has been popularized by the work of public diplomacy scholars Paul Rockower and Sam Chapple-Sokol.

Chappel-sokol defines culinary diplomacy as “the use of food in cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions in cooperation.” In other words, ‘culinary diplomacy’ refers to a government’s use of food to promote its power; this takes form in official diplomatic dinners, the promotion of a country’s cuisines and food products abroad, to name a few examples.

The two terms “culinary diplomacy” and “gastro diplomacy” are used interchangeably by many, though some scholars have differentiated the terms. Gastro diplomacy encompasses the individual exchange of food culture between people, whether through the ethnic restaurants of migrants around the world, or the growing movement of food tourism. It includes the street food; the sharing and exchange of foods between cultures on a more grassroots level. So, gastro diplomacy has a more visible impact on our daily lives.

Rockower claims that gastro diplomacy refers to a tool of public diplomacy, while culinary diplomacy serves as “a means to further diplomatic protocol through cuisine.” Chapple-Sokol writes that both of these fall under the broad categorization of culinary diplomacy. Paul S. Rockower differentiates “’gastro-diplomacy’ as a public diplomacy pursuit,” from “‘culinary diplomacy’ as a means to further diplomatic protocol through cuisine.”

The difference between culinary diplomacy and gastro diplomacy is small, but gastro diplomacy is easily accessible and dependent upon ordinary people around the world, meanwhile, culinary diplomacy is the official manifestation of a state’s power through food, representing an entire country by the choices of an elite few. And both are critical to the cultural exchanges of our modern, globalizing world.

Government-sponsored culinary diplomacy programs

Many countries like Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Peru, and the United States have government-sponsored culinary diplomacy programs.

The government of Thailand has been the most active and was the first government to really use food as a tool of diplomacy. The Global Thai program was launched in 2002, which was the first government-led culinary diplomacy initiative creating hundreds of Thai restaurants around the world and promoting a greater awareness of Thai culture and Thailand’s ‘national brand’.

Similarly, South Korea launched its own culinary diplomacy program in 2009 with the aim to promote of Korean cuisine. Some of the projects undertaken by the Korean government includes opening of a kimchi institute, launching of a touring Korean food truck and even they’ve been lobbying certain cooking institutions like The Culinary Institute of America to actually have a Korean food program along with the traditional French and Italian cuisines.

Malaysia has undertaken a similar project since 2010, by running the “Malaysia Kitchen” program. It has focused most of its efforts to promote Malaysian cuisine in Australia, United States and United Kingdom. Peru has started its culinary diplomacy program from 2011, with Peru’s application for its cuisine to be included in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage like Mexico.

And in September 2012, the United States officially launched its Culinary Diplomacy Partnership Initiative in which More than 80 chefs were members of the “American Chef Corps.” It was the initiation of the United States State Department Office of Protocol. One goal of the program is to send members of the Chef Corps to American embassies abroad on public diplomacy missions to teach about American cuisine. An individual chef may never become part of the elite American Chef Corps, or open a restaurant abroad under the sponsorship of their home government, but the impact of culinary diplomacy through programs such as these is undeniable.


Culinary diplomacy -a form of Soft Power ?

Joseph Nye in his book “Soft Power” has discussed about culture as a source of power to influence and persuade other states. The launch of United States Culinary Diplomacy Partnership Initiative having more than 80 chefs in the “American Chef Corps” can be regarded as the promotion of American food culture and American cuisine. And it can be viewed as the promotion of American soft power through a mode of public diplomacy.

There is existence of “Conflict Cuisine” as a university course, indicating food as a crucial form of soft power and its role ever increasing. Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others by winning their hearts and mind. And there is no doubt that variety of cuisines can just win the heart and mind of people just like that.

At the heart of the practice of culinary diplomacy is the practice of “cultural diplomacy” or the spreading of a state’s culture abroad and thus it increases more people to people contact, enhances interaction and sharing of ideas, views and opinions in this ever globalized world. It can be a medium, extremely significant one to promote cooperation among nation-states.

Culinary Diplomacy: Food as a tool of Peace

Culinary diplomacy and gastro diplomacy, two terms virtually unheard of even a decade ago, are now rapidly growing forms of cultural and inter-governmental exchange globally. Culinary diplomacy, an emerging field of diplomatic studies, examines how food can be used as a tool to promote relationship-building, cooperation, and peace.

The contact hypothesis, popularized by the psychologist Gordon Allport in the 1950s, suggests that being close to others and being engaged in discussion, learning, and teaching can lead to positive connections. Likewise the accessibility to the cuisines and cultures of the world allow us for a much better understanding of our place in a global context and the make each one of us to appreciate the diversity of world even beyond food.

Contact around the dinner table evokes a deeper level of intimacy, interaction and a greater level of understanding and empathy. In the words of the French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin, “We are what we eat”– and which is a great way to create connections, which in turn can promote cooperation, friendship, community-building and world peace. The powerful outcome from culinary diplomacy can be mentioned as- the more we know and understand about our neighbors, the more empathetic we are, and the more engaged we can be in solving the world’s deepest problems.

There is another favorite concept called –the Conflict Kitchen, which is based in Pittsburgh and has also moved to Oakland. It’s a takeout restaurant that only serves food from the countries with which the U.S. is in conflict; they have focused on Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. It is amazing to see each of us interacts with people from around the world in a culinary context, and that even on an everyday level so it is one of the best modes to promote peace.

The U.N. World Food Programme practices important form of culinary diplomacy—through its work in conflict areas, refugee camps and other hunger hotspots. The WFP’s FamilyChef project is an example of the power of food as a tool to promote cross-cultural understanding and reducing world hunger.

The Nexus of food and diplomacy between China and US

I have been in Chengdu for couple of months and I have been observing different Chinese dishes, flavors, textures and methods of cooking and the culinary art has been better represented in Chengdu. It is paradises for food lover- a hundred dishes contain a hundred flavors as I may say. And the Culinary diplomacy program of USA is building a cooperative mechanism , exploring Chengdu’s rich culinary culture and share unique American approach to cooking as well. Besides, China today also conducts active and heavily funded public diplomacy. Announcing plans to invest in international broadcasting programs, sponsoring Confucius institutes around the world (more than 70 in the United States) itself, student exchange programs are some of the programs to enhance public diplomacy by China. Culinary diplomacy could be another possible area for expansion of public diplomacy and cultural exchanges between these two countries. The Silk Road, for example, facilitated culinary exchange in addition to economic and cultural interdependence and the revival of New Silk road could be a possible way for reviving the tradition of culinary exchange all together.

Nepal lying between two great civilizational countries-China and India; is a country with multiple cultures and ethnicities with varieties of cuisines, flavors and preparing techniques. It is one of the major tourist destinations for its rich culture, topographic variations and even due to its local foods. So, there is prospect for Nepal to enhance its diplomatic measures through initiating culinary diplomacy. In today’s interconnected world, none of us are isolated from the world; we are part of a global village and we can connect to all through not only politics or economics but also through music, literature and even food. And to learn about our global neighbors, sometimes, it is even more convenient as easy as going out for dinner and that is possible through culinary diplomacy and the prospect of it should be understood in Nepal’s case.

(The author is currently pursuing Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu.)



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