Goals and Gastrodiplomacy

12 Apr

At the gastrodiplomacy event at American University on Tuesday, April 9th, students were formally introduced to gastrodiplomacy concept, which was defined by Paul Rockower as a way to reach hearts and minds through people’s stomachs. Although I agree with his contention that commensality can create a sense of commonality that may place people in a better position to influence each other, I am not convinced that food can serve as a diplomatic tool simply by bringing people to the table.

One of the questions raised during the question and answer section of the event was what the difference is between culinary diplomacy and culinary tourism. The explanation that the panel came up with boiled down to this: culinary tourism is tourism to eat the food of a region or country. Culinary diplomacy is using food as a diplomatic tool to promote countries and cultures.  I believe that gastrodiplomacy has to be more than raising awareness of a country’s culture. Much though some people like Iranian food, they aren’t necessarily pre-disposed to agree with Iranian political views. This may seem like an extreme example, and there are many reactions to that statement that people could have. I imagine that one of the mostly would be that Iran is not attempting to harness gastrodiplomacy, nor is it trying to endear American audiences to it. This is exactly the point. Gastrodiplomacy must be linked with specific policies and goals in order to be effective.

To put this in a less extreme context, I blogged previously about Japan’s ramen ambassador program, in which members of foreign publics were to blog about their love of ramen for a year. This initiative was presumably supposed to raise awareness about Japanese culture through its food. However, there was no specific policy goal related to it, and so Japan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts may fail. Much like people who like anime do necessarily agree with Japan’s politics, people who discover a love for Japanese noodles may not pre-dispose them to liking Japan’s politics.

Of the countries represented, Peru and South Korea had specific goals. Peru is trying to harness gastrodiplomacy to attract tourism and built their economy. Another benefit of gastrodiplomacy is to bring Peru’s country brand into the 2000s by adding to the image of Peru as more than a country of Incan ruins and rainforests. The Peruvian representative pointed out that given its ecological diversity, the Peruvian cuisine has impressive variety, and the broad appeal has resulted in a rise in popularity of Peruvian food and thus a rise in tourism to Peru.

The representative from South Korea explained that Korean take pride in their food and would like to draw attention to it to provide momentum for continuing the ‘K’ phenomenon (such as K pop). Although he did not detail what the international goals Korea would like to reach through food are, it was clear that there was a strategy to gastrodiplomacy, such as increasing food infrastructure, promoting the health benefits, and improving marketing techniques.

Gastrodiplomacy, like all public diplomacy tools, is not a surefire way to make affect publics in a desired way. Nor is it is possible to open a restaurant and immediately cultivate political affinities. However, if governments tie gastrodiplomacy to specific goals and are prepared for a long-term commitment, having people at the table can open up the possibility of using other diplomacy tools.

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One Response to “Goals and Gastrodiplomacy”

  1. group4628 April 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Gastrodiplomacy is an interesting idea that I think has a long way to go in terms of its development. At the event last week, I appreciated that the representative from Spain (and this is not a direct quote) said that “Hummus helps create dialogue but won’t solve Middle East peace.” I think it’s important to consider that food helps bring people together in an informal way and can greatly benefit cross-cultural communication; however, it will not be something that solves wars between countries.

    Even if there was a food you tried but didn’t like during the tasting, it was still a new experience and gave you some knowledge of a different culture. If that’s what gastrodiplomacy is accomplishing at its earliest levels, it proves we still have a long way to go with developing it.

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