Food Diplomacy

Last class we spoke briefly about soft power and its many definitions. One of the definitions we reviewed was from the Nye reading titled “Public Diplomacy & Soft Power.” In this reading, Nye defines soft power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment. A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies. A smart power strategy combines hard and soft power resources. Public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power, but smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the roles of credibility, self-criticism, and civil society in generating soft power.”

Nye later recognizes that there are three main ways in which power influences others’ behavior. The first being threats of coercion, then inducements and payments and finally “attraction,” that which makes others want what you want (soft power). He specifically mentions that “A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries want to follow it, admiring its values, emulating its example, and/or aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness.”


I would like to emphasize his idea of soft power being one that rests on culture and values. It is quite evident that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has openly been a strong proponent of soft power in all of its forms. I wrote about food in my first blog, and I should conclude by writing about food again. I’d like to briefly discuss the State Department’s food diplomacy program known as “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership.” I feel this is a great example of very soft power, one in which we share our U.S. values through food. I argue that this is an alternate form of dialogue that elicits emotion and communicates values, ideals and more. Many have criticized such a program, but they completely disregard the power of food as identity and as communication. Often, food says a lot more than what one can exchange at a negotiation table—there is obvious shared meaning.  American Chef Corps is made up of 80 food professionals who are deployed abroad as culinary ambassadors who do what most diplomats would do, although with a culinary twist. They “cook for visiting dignitaries, speak to groups, write articles, blog, tweet or find other ways to extol the virtues of American cooking and food products.”[1] I argue that with such programs in where emotions elicited and values are communicated in a way that most will understand (food), there is a greater likelihood for there to exist openness to an attraction in which others want what you want. Overall, food helps transcend boundaries, an imperative for public diplomacy.



5 thoughts on “Food Diplomacy

  1. Gaby,

    Thank you for this interesting post. It’s amazing how sharing a meal does so much more than nourish the body,it communicates culture and facilitates diplomacy. Food is a symbol of our identity and can be representative of a cultural group. As we set the table along side the cutlery we leave relics of our identity, characteristics of our homeland and people. The dinner table communicates for us sometimes the best of our culture. It’s interesting how something on the everyday level such as food is so imperative to the success of something such as public diplomacy. I think we will see in the future an increase in countries using gastrodiplomacy and culinary diplomacy to build soft power.


  2. I enjoyed reading about your post on food and PD as well, Gaby! And Vanessa, your metaphors explain food identity exchanged at the table really well.

    I’m really excited about the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership recently put into action, especially because it has the ability to influence people on a personal level. While sharing and exchanging foods across cultures, ideas and proposals are being spread as well. Most of the chefs in the American Chef Corps do more than cooking and managing restaurants. Many are traveling motivational speakers and contribute substantially, financially and through PR, to various charities. Also, most promote sustainability and use locally sourced foods. Because of this, the Department of State has the chefs speak on certain issues, such as food security and agriculture, while they are visiting other countries dealing with these issues. This is a great move in combining gastrodiplomacy with development diplomacy. It’s exciting to be studying these efforts as they are taking place!

  3. There are so many interesting programs out there that I’ve never heard of! Food definitely makes sense as a facilitator of soft power. Now that I think about it, I see this at work on the organizational level as well. When an organization (perhaps a cultural group, a church, school, etc.) wants to increase their visibility and improve relations with a community, it seems like food is usually one of the first things that they turn to. In the last few months alone I know that in Bethesda there have been food festivals including “A Taste of Bethesda” and Saint Mark Orthodox Church’s “Ethnic Food Festival and Bazaar.” I did not attend either of those events, but I did go to a food festival and bazaar held at a Russian Orthodox church in DC…and you know what? It works really well. Interesting food and a book sale drew me to the Russian Orthodox church, but while I was there I was convinced to go on a church tour, and I came away from the event with a feeling that this church was very connected with the community, rich in local history, and an organization that I would consider working with in the future (if I had a need for a Russian Orthodox church).

  4. Just as side note, this really wants me to dig out a great recipe and get to cooking in the kitchen! But beyond this post stirring up my tastebuds, I want to pose a question to you ladies (Gaby, Vanessa, Elaine, and Amanda – since you all have written/previously commented on the post) while we equate food with our identity, most often times cultural identity, (something I know Gaby and myself discussed in our presentation with Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations), what about us as the American population? Since we are comprised of a vast mixture of national backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and so forth, what is the best food or cuisine to show off our cultural identity? Let me elaborate a little, albeit diasporic communities exist across the globe and the world as we know it today is very much a mixed bag. But as a nation-state, the United States contains all sorts of people and not specifically from one background because we are a country of immigrants. So what foods mark us as Americans (I want to say besides hamburgers and hot dogs!)?
    Well I think what is key for making the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership work is reflective our immigrant backgrounds in the food. Let’s take Poland for example, (and show off a bit of my cultural heritage), I think the imperative to making food diplomacy work would be to integrate Polish cooking with a hint of American. Preparing babka (type of cake) and pierogies (noodle filled with cheese, meats, or fruit). Considering the United States’ immigrant population, being reflective of that overseas at the various embassies would provide additional ways to open up communication. More than just bringing people together over a meal, integrating national backgrounds into food diplomacy overseas may further enable us to “transcend boundaries” (as as you stated Gaby)


  5. This was a wonderful post, Gaby! After spending the semester discussing food and how it relates to international communication with you, Gaina, Lauren, and Franzi, it seems fitting that your last blog entry should be about it. I personally love the idea of food diplomacy and frankly, I’m surprised that no one came up with it sooner. No matter what culture you may come from, everyone can relate and connect at the dinner table. Most people have positive connotations with food, which makes it ideal for a public diplomacy tool. I’ll be curious to see what kind of reception this initiative receives abroad, and whether or not it spawns similar programs. Food is clearly a powerful communication tool and transmits ideas about culture, identity, and values. Will a social media element be tied into this in any way? I think that a diplomacy tool of this nature would offer some great opportunities for social media engagement. It could spark questions about American culture, and encourage interactions such as recipe sharing.

    Lauren, in response to your question, I think that our cultural identity as Americans is often based on our interpretations of the food of other cultures (“foodception,” maybe?) Let me explain in further detail. As an immigrant nation, numerous cultures have left their mark on our national cuisine. There is no ‘typical’ American food, but many of the foods that immigrants brought to America – such as pizza – have undergone evolutions as a result of distance from their native culture and other influences. Chinese food, Italian food, Thai food, and others are just a few examples of foods that have become staples in the American diet. Of course, if we absolutely had to pick something to showcase our cultural identity, I’d go with chocolate chip cookies. It’s a ‘dish’ unique to the United States and highlights the national affinity for sugar.

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