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Food and sustainability

Dinner table diplomacy

Despite the range of different names – culinary diplomacy, gastrodiplomacy, gastronomic diplomacy – the meaning is always the same: food is an important tool for communication and bonding between different cultures and can help to reduce hostility and isolation.

Culinary diplomacy or gastrodiplomacy does not take food to the places where it is needed with the noble goal of reducing hunger, but rather uses “food as a tool to create understanding between different cultures, in order to improve interaction and cooperation”. This is the view of Sam Chapple-Sokol, who along with Paul Rockower, is considered as one of the leading experts in culinary diplomacy and helps to raise awareness about the key role that food can play around the world. “Sitting at the same table to share a meal, and especially preparing it together, is the best way to strike up close relationships with others”, believes Chapple-Sokol. Food has been used as a tool in diplomacy since prehistoric times, when hunters would sit around the prey they had just captured. So-called culinary diplomacy evolved over the years and became institutionalised at the beginning of the 20th century, continuing right up to today, with the first formal studies into the importance of food in diplomatic relations. In theory, there is a difference between the various definitions in this field: culinary diplomacy is used for the more “private” aspects of the discipline, while gastrodiplomacy refers to the public part, which can, for example, be practised by an entire country.
From this point of view, food becomes a useful tool for breaking down cultural barriers and stereotypes about people and countries both near and far, and can even be helpful in resolving conflicts. In 2010, following a number of attacks against Indian immigrants in Australia, the movement Vindaloo Against Violence invited Australians to eat in Indian restaurants; in Germany, to improve relations between Germans and Turks, a book entitled “Buttercreme und Börek” was published as a result of an initiative to encourage German and Turkish women to cook together and to exchange recipes. “Food is not the miracle solution to all our problems, but it is undoubtedly a quick and simple way of breaking down barriers to communication”, the expert concludes.

Putting theory into practice
The examples of gastrodiplomacy around the world are increasing by the day and their success highlights the importance of food in human relations. On a national level, some of the most successful campaigns have been carried out in several Asian countries which have used food as a tool to raise their profile, to increase sustainable tourism, at the same time, to boost the national economy. For instance, Thailand was the first country to use its own culinary traditions and restaurants as diplomatic outposts with the “Global Thai program”, in place since 2002, in order to increase the number of Thai restaurants around the world. Similar campaigns have also been used to boost the profile of Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, and even the USA and Europe have ventured into the field of gastrodiplomacy.
For example, for the first time, the Obama administration created the role of “culinary ambassador”, an out-and-out ambassador of food, while in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the restaurant Conflict Kitchen only serves traditional food from those countries with which the USA typically has hostile relationships. Also, the Club des chefs des chefs, which brings together chefs of various heads of state from different countries around the world, can be seen as another example of gastrodiplomacy, as demonstrated by its motto: “Politics divides people, a good meal brings them together”. So what is the secret of ensuring that (almost) nobody is disappointed? Vegetarian or even vegan meals: indeed, with vegetables, there is no risk of violating anyone’s religion, taboo or eating habits, while at the same time offering a healthy meal, protecting the environment and reducing the negative impact of animal rearing.

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