A More Precise Definition

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In an earlier post I define ‘Culinary Diplomacy’ as:

“The use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create a cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation.”

I’d like to hone in a little on the definition, as I see two distinct strands composing the larger concept. These are ‘Public’ and ‘Private’ culinary diplomacy. The former takes place within the realm of Public Diplomacy, and more specifically, Cultural Diplomacy. It refers to outreach being done at the government level to foreign publics (or domestic publics, as is being done by Michelle Obama, Sam Kass, and the rest of the kitchen staff at the White House, see future post). Much of the work being done by governments in Southeast Asia is public culinary diplomacy (see future post), as is the planned work of the American Chef Corps.

Private culinary diplomacy, on the other hand, is done behind closed doors. In the work of the State Department, it is handled by the Office of Protocol. Private culinary diplomacy has been practiced since the beginning of time, from State Dinners and entertaining foreign leaders to hosting people from other backgrounds in your own home. Its effects may be limited to the people at the table, or can have deep repercussions, as when influential leaders are better able to see eye-to-eye after sharing a particularly meaningful meal. Private culinary diplomacy is deeply connected to the term commensality, a beautiful word which will be the topic of a future post.

Understanding and expanding on these definitions will help us comprehend the work currently being done by State, as well as the projects undertaken in other countries.

I know that my colleague in the field, Paul Rockower, would have something to say on this issue. On his blog, Levantine, he offers a different distinction: that between ‘Gastrodiplomacy’ and ‘Culinary Diplomacy.’ Observe:

“Culinary Diplomacy is done at a more diplomatic level, while gastrodiplomacy is done as public diplomacy to introduce cuisine at more people-to-people level.”

His ‘culinary diplomacy’ is akin to my ‘private culinary diplomacy,’ while his ‘gastrodiplomacy’ is close to my ‘public culinary diplomacy.’ We may disagree on terminology, but the ideas are similar and equally important to delve into. And delve we shall.

5 Responses

  1. […] Varying terms aside, Paul’s differentiation is helpful for identifying potential issues with the State Department program, as well as how to improve it. Noreen Malone’s article, though, doesn’t provide such guidance. Instead, it takes cheap shots at a program in its infancy. To complain that the program involves too many TV chefs seems misguided. Her point is that TV chefs are the ones with money to spend on travel abroad, and look more ‘Hollywood than Neighborhood Bistro.’  A few problems here: first of all, a majority of the chefs on the list AREN’T famous from being on TV. Ms. Malone says that herself. They were found through other channels than Food Network – I don’t know how State dug up their list of chefs, but it’s an extensive group from all around the country, and while they may not be your local neighborhood bakers, they do represent more of the American food scene than just the two extremes highlighted in the article – Happy Meals and ‘locally-pickled items and weird animal innards at Brooklyn restaurants.’ […]

  2. […] program as well – each new Thai restaurant is an unofficial embassy, and an opportunity for public culinary diplomacy is […]

  3. […] pure “culinary diplomacy” and not “gastrodiplomacy” – read here for more on definitions). It was a $250 event in downtown DC, completely inaccessible to a vast […]

  4. […] what does this have to do with culinary diplomacy? Simple. If culinary diplomacy is the use of food as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in hopes of improving intera…, we all need to take a step back to look at the food we are consuming and sharing — and what […]

  5. […] discussed many topics throughout the life of this blog; some frivolous (semantic discussions of the field’s name), some cheesy (“cultural” diplomacy), some historical (ideas around […]

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