It’s been a while since I’ve written in these pages, but it’s not for lack of thought about Culinary Diplomacy. I’ve been considering the field in a variety of ways for the past few years, and have come up with an updated conception of the field. Here I will present a new structure, which I’ve mentioned in passing to a few scholars of the field with mostly positive feedback. I’m hoping to codify this new structure in a more formal way, including adding more depth and color of case studies, but before I do so, I’m interested to hear how it comes across to my colleagues around the world – I want to understand if it is compelling enough to pursue. So, without further ado, I present to you:
The Three Pillars of Culinary Diplomacy
In earlier writing, I have defined culinary diplomacy as “the use of food and cuisine as instruments to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.” I will not be updating that definition here, but redefining the structure of the field as I’ve seen it grow. In a blog post from April 2014, I laid out a taxonomy of the field. The terms “culinary diplomacy,” “gastrodiplomacy,” “food diplomacy,” “gastronomic diplomacy, “diplomatic gastronomy,” and more were in use at the time, with the first two being the most common. My colleague Paul Rockower, then and now, distinguished culinary diplomacy as being confined to formal interactions between heads of state and in official diplomatic functions, while gastrodiplomacy is a tool of outreach for governments to foreign publics. He added that gastrodiplomacy would also include people-to-people connections through the act of breaking bread.
In my article “Culinary Diplomacy: Breaking Bread to Win Hearts and Minds,” as well as elsewhere in my writing, I have insisted that the two terms (culinary diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy) describe one and the same overall idea, with different terminologies. I did take a cue from Paul and distinguish two tracks, those of private and public culinary diplomacy. Private culinary diplomacy mapped (for the most part) on Paul’s conception of “culinary diplomacy” (formal interactions between heads of state, etc.) and public culinary diplomacy mapped on gastrodiplomacy. I’ll admit this conception was due to my linguistic dislike of the word ‘gastrodiplomacy,’ but I did find my distinction of ‘public’ and ‘private’ to be more clear, and therefore more compelling, than the somewhat random distinction between ‘culinary diplomacy’ and ‘gastrodiplomacy.’
My new conception of the field, though, is more structured, and I hope more clear. Culinary Diplomacy, I have come to believe, is an overarching term, an umbrella that is raised over three somewhat distinct (though not perfectly so) pillars.
The first pillar, which for now I’ve been thinking of as “Track I Culinary Diplomacy,” maps closely to my original “private culinary diplomacy” and Paul’s “culinary diplomacy.” It involves formal interactions between government officials, either behind closed doors or in public. Ambassadorial entertaining, working lunches, state dinners; all of these fall into the field of Track I Culinary Diplomacy. This pillar is rich with history, rich in narrative, and the most widely considered by the public – every time an American State Dinner occurs, the menu, the seating charts, and more are pored over by the media. There are books concerning Track I Culinary Diplomacy, including Cita Stelzer’s Dinner With Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table, and I’m aware of at least one academic, Elaine Mahon, whose work could be classified under this pillar.
The second pillar of culinary diplomacy, which I’ll now concede and refer to as gastrodiplomacy, specifically involves government-to-foreign public engagement. In the world of diplomacy theory, it may be considered a sub-component of public diplomacy. Its goals are to build a nation’s soft power, to promote trade and tourism, and to encourage cultural exchange. This second pillar has become established in the last fifteen years, at first with the work of the Thai government and since including projects led by the Peruvians, South Korea, Malaysia, the U.S. Department of State, and more. Included in this field would be governmental efforts to have national cuisines and dishes ascribed to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural world heritage, as well as international culinary events like the 2015 Milan Expo. Paul’s writing, as well as that of Mary Jo Pham, Yelena Osipova, and others, would reside under this pillar, as would future analyses or case studies of the various nation-branding projects currently underway.
The third pillar, which I’ve never seen formally extracted from the rest of the field, I’ve started to think of as “Citizen Culinary Diplomacy.” It involves any project or idea that for the most part engages non-state actors – somewhat akin to the subfield of citizen diplomacy, but without the explicit goal of promoting a nation’s foreign relations. This is a huge and growing area, with projects spread around the world involving cross-cultural weight loss programs, trans-border cooking collaborations, educational dinner pop-ups, and more. This pillar is gaining traction in popular media due to the rise of “conflict café” type projects focusing on immigration and cuisine, and I expect it should only grow. I have not seen significant treatment of this field in academic literature, though I am aware of a few students in the UK working on these issues.
The names of the pillars are flexible; I’m not wedded to any of them, but I see value in the descriptiveness and sense borrowed from the realm of diplomacy for the names of Pillars I and III and the precedent in the field of Pillar II.
As I mentioned above, there are likely numerous cases which lodge themselves firmly between these pillars, or maybe outside; I welcome these examples and hope we can find ways to classify them, whether between two pillars or simply as part of the overarching field. One student of the field suggested a potential muddling of pillars if government actors are invited to participate in NGO exchanges; I can imagine other situations as well, such as when a private citizen engages with a foreign public for the benefit of his or her national cuisine and culture (the Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio has done this, for example). Otherwise, I hope that a majority of cases can be fit under one of the three pillars. If not, I look forward to shifting this new conception in order to be of use to other scholars in the field.
This is certainly brief, but I hope it gets across the new structure as I’ve been envisioning it. So, have at it: I welcome all thoughts, concerns, and criticisms.