Friday, February 20, 2009

Food Diplomacy

I’d like to propose a toast… to food diplomacy! On this topic, PD scholars seem surprisingly quiet. Here are a few examples of the role food can play in PD:

1) Food as aid. While other countries send cash, America ships food around the world stamped with USA. Our method has drawn criticism from many but satisfies American agribusiness and shipping companies. Click here to see a Business Week article on the problems with America's food aid, a key element of soft power.

2) Winning hearts, minds and stomachs in other countries. According to an article in Korea’s JoongAng Daily, the popularity of Korean food abroad is (quite literally) fueling diplomatic efforts. The article mentions gifts of Kimchi to Colin Powell, "known to be a kimchi maniac." Currently, Korean officials are planning food-related events in Mexico, Dubai, and Egypt.

3) Globalization of food--accidental PD. Sasha Issenberg’s book The Sushi Economy describes the journey of sushi around the world. Sushi is often reinterpreted and recreated to match local tastes. Can favorable views of Japanese food lead to favorable views of Japan?

4) Hunger and poverty. On a more serious note, food highlights the paradoxes in our world- the challenges of abundance in some countries and the reality of chronic hunger in others. These present long-term challenges for NGOs, governments, and individuals.

I’m only scratching the surface here… health, security and energy issues are all connected to the politics of food. In fact, last summer, the LA Times did an entire series on food diplomacy.

Any other examples of food in public diplomacy?

1 comment:

  1. I thought that food was an interesting element to public dimplomacy that isn't commonly mentioned. I read the newspaper piece that you had mentioned, and had to wonder why relief wasn't loudly publicized. For all the bad rap that the United States gets, why on Earth would we want to tone down the good things that we are doing? The newspaper links to a book publicizing American aid during the Berlin airlift, a time when America faced a conflict involving ideals as well.

    I think that the issue of food is also a good one to mention because it is so connected to several basic ideas of security, most notably those in the United States. Today in my Enviromental Science Class, the professor was talking about a documentary entitled "King Corn" which chronicled how corn was grown in the United States in astronomical proportions, mainly for econmomic and political relationships. Much of the corn ends up as high fructose corn syrup, damaging the health of the American public. In class we also talked about genetically modified foods, which are foods that also come from crops with high yields. However, genetic modification has been banned in Europe for health reasons and recent research has shown that nutritional rates are declining as well. I'm sure that of the food that the United States does export, it does this in support of domestic agricultural policy. Yet, as your post demonstrated, this is also an important component of international policy that cannot be overlooked.

    I also have to wonder what globalization of food will do to the discerning consumer in the coming century? For example, you mentioned how sushi is becoming popular the world over. Yet, with this, I also think certain fish species are subject to overfishing and potential extinction. Just some food for thought- what are the effects of not eating "locally" and eating "globally"? It probably isn't very good for the planet. Yet, awful as it sounds, I think I will continue to eat sushi, yet in the name of the enviroment (and my own inner food snob) I will say that I rarely eat it outside of Japan.

    In any case, I think your post brought up some interesting points regarding food products, which are certainly a mainstay of public diplomacy and have been for centuries. This useful and tasty tool should not be forgotten!