Written By Anastasia Kolobrodova
From kimchi to kubideh to kraut, food diplomacy — also referred to as gastrodiplomacy and culinary diplomacy — is catching on. Food diplomacy, a multifaceted public diplomacy approach that combines exchange diplomacy and cultural diplomacy in one bite, has been the topic of many attentions in the past few years: First lady of South Korea, Kim Yoon-ok, came to the United States and cooked Korean pancakes for American veterans of the Korean War to spread “positive and delicious” associations. Taiwan is launching a gastrodiplomacy initiative. Even Barack Obama has been engaging in food diplomacy, with his and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent visit to Ray’s Hell Burger in DC.
The most interesting food diplomacy initiative that I’ve recently come across is Conflict Kitchen, a take-out restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which “only serves cuisine from countries that the United States is in conflict with.” The restaurant rebrands itself every month as a “kitchen” from a different country. Right now, as the Iranian “Kubideh Kitchen,” it serves a delicious looking wrap of meat with onion and herbs. The food comes in an information-rich wrapper which “includes interviews with Iranians both in Pittsburgh and Iran on subjects ranging from Iranian food and poetry to the current political turmoil.” In its next phase as an Afghan restaurant called “Bolani Pazi,” Conflict Kitchen will serve bolani, a vegan flatbread stuffed with vegetables.
In providing food and information about countries that most Americans see through a one-dimensional lens, Conflict Kitchen helps promote cultural understanding and facilitate dialogue about the featured country. It gives people a basis for which to start discussion about sometimes-controversial cultural issues in a neutral (and delicious!) setting. With each kitchen iteration, there are also associated cultural events and opportunities for dialogue, including a dinner party which took place concurrently in Tehran and Pittsburgh and was connected via Skype.
I believe that Conflict Kitchen is a wonderful idea. Food is a great way to connect people, and the different cultures and rituals surrounding food offer a solid basis for the start of conversation and understanding. When I was couchsurfing through Europe, I would prepare a Russian meal for my hosts on one night of my stay, and they would cook a meal traditional to their country the following night. Whether it be borsch or buffalo mozzarella or Swedish waffles, those meals inspired conversations about the differences and similarities between our respective countries. We then spoke about our own personal travel histories and experiences, and then life in general. The dinner table provided the perfect forum for cultural exchange. As a public diplomacy practitioner and an adventurous eater, I hope to see more focus on innovative food diplomacy projects in the field of public diplomacy.
Interested in food diplomacy? Check out these other articles and resources:
Conflict Kitchen: conflictkitchen.org
The Gastrodiplomacy Cookbook: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-rockower/the-gastrodiplomacy-cookb_b_716555.html
Culinary Diplomacy With a Side of Kimchi: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/dining/23kore.html