What is Gastrodiplomacy?
The term “breaking bread” commonly refers to two or more people coming together to share a meal. For many, this term conjures up the image of sitting around a dining room table with their family members on a holiday, surrounded by the sights and smells of seasonal festivities. For others, “breaking bread” revives memories of getting to know their neighbors over a pot-luck style dinner. For the world of international relations, however, the concept behind this phrase has a whole new meaning. It has actually influenced the development of the latest tool in foreign policy: gastrodiplomacy.
Gastrodiplomacy, defined by Rockower in 2012, refers to public relations campaigns launched by governments, states, and non-state actors to brand their nation through food, or to use food as an instrument in government-to-public diplomacy. The term itself is full of meaning – it refers to culinary soft power, to an edible form of nation branding, and to a meaningful method of cross-cultural engagement through food. Simply put, gastrodiplomacy allows states to use their traditional foods to market their country while simultaneously promoting cooperation with other nations.
While the strategic use of gastrodiplomacy truly took off in 2012, food has always played a critical role in human relations. Professor Charles Spence of the University of Oxford was fascinated by this phenomenon, prompting him to research the intersection of gastronomy and human affairs. Spence discovered that even our earliest societies relied on communal eating to both ensure their survival and facilitate social cohesion. Indeed, the very notion of breaking bread together is a deeply historical, psychological, and physiological phenomenon. Considering this, it is no surprise that governments have turned to food as a way to express their culture, history, and politics with communities around the world.
How has Gastrodiplomacy shaped International Relations?
Now, food is an integral part of diplomacy. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton commented on this trend, calling gastrodiplomacy one of the international community’s “oldest diplomatic tools.” Beyond that, it is one of our most effective instruments in foreign policy. How is it, though, that an act as simple as sharing a traditional meal is so powerful? The answer is quite simple – food breaks barriers. It brings people together. It introduces a feeling of commonality and humanity into even the most difficult environments. Consider the high-level negotiations needed to create the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – colloquially, the “Iran nuclear deal” – in 2015. For weeks, a team of international representatives held several rounds of negotiations with the goal of safely managing Iran’s nuclear program. When the negotiations became particularly challenging, the representatives would pause and take the time to share a meal together. No shop talk was allowed – rather, everyone was encouraged to informally get to know each other. Experts conclude that this practice of breaking bread was imperative in pushing the Iran deal through. Rather than seeing their diplomatic counterparts as adversaries, the negotiators began to view them in a more human, and less combative, light.
Results such as these are not one-time occurrences. Rather, they are consistently demonstrated over time. For instance, the Harvard Business Review recently published a study that indicated negotiators are more likely to broker complex trade deals after sharing a meal together. With such positive outcomes, it is no wonder that governments across the globe have made food a pillar of their foreign policy. In fact, many gastrodiplomacy programs have emerged in the past decade. To highlight just a few examples – in 2012, the US Department of State devised its own culinary diplomacy partnership initiative and named 80 American chefs to their Chefs Corps. Other nations have conceived of similar programs, such as South Korea’s Kimchi Institute or Thailand’s Thai Select initiative. Both projects aim to introduce traditional Korean and Thai cuisines to restaurants around the world, thereby bringing international communities closer to these cultures.
How can Gastrodiplomacy bring the world together during COVID-19?
One of the greatest advantages of gastrodiplomacy is that it can be done virtually. Thus, as the world currently battles a global pandemic, it is important to remember that we can still learn about culture, politics, and food from the comfort of our own homes. Many American organizations have already demonstrated the possibility of using gastrodiplomacy to facilitate international connections in the time of COVID-19. For instance, the San Diego Diplomacy Council hosted a virtual event in which a nutritionist taught viewers how to prepare several Israeli dishes. This allowed San Diego’s local community to try out exciting new recipes while learning about life overseas. Similarly, World Boston virtually brought in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumna from Spain to demonstrate how to prepare a Spanish omelet. These organizations have shown that living in quarantine does not quash opportunities for international engagement. Rather, we can now reconsider how we view cross-cultural engagement and collaboration, all through the influence of food.
We can start by contributing to gastrodiplomacy right here in Kansas City. Global Ties KC gives our community the opportunity to host international visitors for a meal during their stay in the Midwest. By breaking bread with international visitors, you can gain a deeper appreciation for an array of cultures, all while creating lifelong friendships. Find out how you can do your part here.
What’s more, Global Ties KC is excited to use gastrodiplomacy to bring international exchange right to your door. We want to hear from you about the special dishes you have made during quarantine, as well as how those dishes relate to your culture and identity. If you are interested in participating, send a photo or video of a dish you have prepared from your home country to email@example.com. We would love to highlight how food has played a role in your life, and to continue bringing the world to Kansas City through food.
Finally, if you are interested in learning more about gastrodiplomacy, check out these great videos: