For years the US State Department has sent artists of many stripes around the world to share the culture of the United States with the people of countries around the world. Musicians, visual artists, dancers, and other artist could show off America to the world in a way that did not rely on language for communications. It represents a wonderful opportunity for Americans to be appreciated internationally as well as a wonderful opportunity for the rest of the world to connect to America through the non-verbal arts.
Traditionally the culinary arts were not included in the circuit of artists who were sponsored by the state department. This seems ironic since everyone eats and enjoying food is something that is not dependent on sharing a common language. But the very basics of a culinary diplomacy can be found throughout our history. And unlike traditional artistic cultural diplomacy, food diplomacy is directly related to survival.
In the most direct way – through taxation – food and drink have been taxed even before we became America. Foreign goods have been taxed to protect the domestic products, such as taxes on brandy protecting the domestic spirits of rye and bourbon. Foreign leaders have often negotiated their relationships over meals, learning about each other and the other leaders’ countries. Winston Churchill, for example, famously entertained the Allied leaders over many a dinner during World War II. And entertaining through state dinners shares culture and politics.
Embargoes have used food to bend one country to the will of another, especially by controlling access to food. The Berlin Airlift kept such an embargo from being successful, but by providing food aid, the Americans were sharing culture as well as sustenance. And through other forms of food aid, during drought and other emergencies, culture is shared along with the food, whether intentional or not. Even international trade is a form of culinary diplomacy, making Coca-Cola, Tabasco, and McDonald’s, recognizable symbols of America around the world.
By recognizing the concept of culinary diplomacy the United States is putting itself in a position to develop a coordinated policy that integrates all aspects of culinary diplomacy. We are very excited about the prospect of hearing directly from the person at the US State Department who is in charge of this program, Lauren B. Bernstein. She will be giving the 2016 Contemporary Issues in Food & Drink Lecture Series presented by Domino Foods, Inc. on October 8 at SoFAB beginning at 6:30 pm. The title of her lecture is Plating up Diplomacy: The Role Food Can Play in Bridging Cultures. Please join us.