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Food For Friendship: Culinary Diplomacy Is Bringing Nations Together

JRR Tolkien once said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” What if I said Tolkien’s wishes are coming true? The nations are forgetting their long drawn grudges and enmity and coming closer because of one factor. And no, for once, it’s not money or gold or oil. It’s Food.

First Things First

It seems that culinary diplomacy is the “in” thing in international politics today. All the credit goes to Le Club des Chefs des Chefs (CCC), which is an association of 18 chefs of Heads of State, who use culinary diplomacy to strengthen international relations, through their work at the White House, Rashtrapati Bhavan and more. Recently there was a meet in New Delhi and it was their first meet after the inception of this club in Paris, headed by French chef Gilles Bragard, General Secretary & Club Founder of the chefs of leaders in 1970s.

Why Culinary Diplomacy?

The concept of culinary diplomacy is used to improve international relations and understand the counterpart better, since the cuisine of a country not only reflects the spices used or the technique of making food but also the culture, traditions, beliefs and even climate of a nation. For us noobs, culinary diplomacy isn’t the same as food diplomacy, which is used to reduce global hunger. Who knew?

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Photo Courtesy Of: Pixabay

“Chefs are great diplomats and good food helps in easing negotiations,” Bragard said at the the press conference hosted by The Imperial. I mean, it’s always better to have a conversation over dessert, amirite? A gooey chocolate pastry or a big tub of ice-cream is always an excellent healer for a battered heart. Chefs are masters in hypnotising us with their creativity and their magic gastronomical skills. It could be that negotiations break down because people are hangry, but unfortunately, we don’t have stats for this.

Regional Food FTW

The CCC is not the only one which has raised the concept of culinary diplomacy. The Global Thai program, launched in 2002 was the first government-led culinary diplomacy initiative which aimed at spreading and popularising Thai cuisine by establishing Thai restaurants across the world. Then, with the release of e-book ‘Thailand – Kitchen Of The World’, it gave a real push to this drive. The Thai have surely become successful in their mission and well, you have to accept that even in India we find red and green curry in every nook and corner.

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Photo Courtesy Of: Pixabay

Then in 2009, South Korea invested $77m in its culinary diplomacy program known as “Korean cuisine to the world” or “Global Khimchi”. The main motto behind this was to promote the special health benefits of Korean cuisine. It even opened Khimchi institute to include Korean cuisine in the syllabus of internationally recognised cooking institutes. They started a touring Korean food tuck. The culinary diplomacy drives were then followed by Malaysia’s “Malaysia Kitchen” in 2010, then by Peru in 2011 and the United States in 2012.

From Then To Now

The origin of culinary diplomacy goes back to the biblical times and ancient Greece. It is said that Jesus Christ had stated that food is the best way of bringing people closer to each other. In France Louis XIII’s  first minister Cardinal Richelieu, an excellent diplomat, once said that an ambassador’s table should be served neatly, plentifully and with taste. He stated that “A good table is the best and easiest way of keeping himself well informed. The natural effect of good eating is the inauguration of friendships and the creation of familiarity and when people are a trifle warmed by wine they often disclose secrets of importance.”

Setting The Table For Friendship

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Photo Courtesy Of: Pixabay

There are two types of culinary diplomacy. First being the Public Culinary Diplomacy. It is a way of communicating with outsiders to initiate dialogue designed to influence people. The examples I recently mentioned like that of Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Peru etc. are examples of public culinary diplomacy, where noobs like you and me can understand another culture. Then comes the Private Culinary Diplomacy which occurs behind the curtains where there is personal communication away from the public eye.

What Matters Is…

Everything matters in culinary diplomacy. Be it the quality of food, type of seating arrangement, serving techniques, the aura, the company…everything! One has to be really careful and perceptive while using this kind of diplomacy. Many countries use it as a part of nation branding. We have our embassies everywhere. And by embassies, I not only mean our Indian government offices in foreign countries but also Indian restaurants there represent our culture. They are many times, the first representative of our Indian cuisine overseas.

If nations like USA and South Korea can start a movement of peace among nations through culinary diplomacy, gastronomy can certainly cure the bitterness created by the past, settle matters in the present and bring peace in the near future.

Featured Photo Courtesy Of: Pixabay

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Ashwati Menon is a first-year mass media student who strongly believes that food resembles soul, passion & that's what she likes to inculcate in her writing. Good food and reading about food is her primary need each day.