Gastrodiplomacy: Eating Your Way to World Peace
WhenMarch 27, 2014
American University recently launched its first course on “gastrodiplomacy,” which teaches students how to understand different cultures and encourages diplomacy through food. The course, taught by international conflict expert Johanna Mendelson Forman, explores the culinary contributions of immigrant communities in Washington DC through field trips to local restaurants, and then uses the visits as a launchpad for discussing conflicts like the Vietnam War and Ethiopian civil war.
Students speak to cooks and restaurant owners to hear about their first-hand experiences of coming to the United States from conflict zones around the world. As a bonus, students get to sample delicious cooking and seek out new restaurants to interview the owners about the cuisine and their countries' histories.
Countries like Mexico have learned to leverage gastrodiplomacy to their advantage: Mexican cooking has been designated part of the world’s cultural heritage by UNESCO. And Mexican chefs like Pati Jinich, who now serves as a cultural ambassador at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington DC and highlights her Mexican and Jewish background through a cooking show, a best-selling cookbook, and cooking classes, demonstrate that promoting this heritage can be a viable career.
Read more about American University’s new course and learn about gastrodiplomacy in this recent article from NPR.
By Linda Poon
It's often said that the closest interaction many Americans have with other countries' cultures is through food. That kind of culinary diplomacy is particularly common in Washington, D.C., where immigrants from all over the world have cooked up a diverse food scene.
Now one scholar-in-residence at American University is using the city's food culture to teach her students about global affairs via a course on "gastrodiplomacy" — using food as a tool to foster cultural understanding among countries.
While the concept of gastrodiplomacy has been gaining traction among governments in recent years (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a "chef ambassador" corps a couple of years ago), the class is the first of its kind at a school of international relations, says , a policy expert on international conflict who teaches the new course.
"What's unique is that students themselves would never make the connection that food is a part of international relations," she says.
Already halfway through its first run, the course immerses students in the study of war and conflict prior to Sept. 11 — including the Vietnam War, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and Ethiopia's civil war — and how those have led to the sizable diaspora in D.C. Students also get a taste of how food affected those conflicts.
Perhaps the best part of her class? The field trips to local ethnic restaurants, where students get to enjoy a traditional meal and hear the owners speak about the history of their culture. During a recent trip to in Georgetown, students learned about the influences Italians had on Ethiopian cuisine when they colonized the country in the 1930s.
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