food diplomacy through the story of a meal

Archive for gastro-diplomacy

Our gal Hillary and the importance of food diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never once wanted us to think of her as some little woman waiting for her husband to come home from work with an evening cocktail and a home-cooked meal.  But that does not mean she does not know the persuasive power of food as a diplomatic tool.  She’s turned the State Department kitchen into a tool of international diplomacy.

Clinton put her Chief of Protocol, Capricia Penavic Marshall, in charge of what’s come to be known as “food diplomacy.”

Classic French food that used to dominate diplomatic functions is largely gone.  New and innovative chefs, cuisines, ideas are bubbling up all over State from social media, and now culinary creativity.  Foreign diplomats are served American food with fresh local ingredients, along with reminders of home.

Even in the White House, the desire to know when food comes from and how it informs who we are and what we stand for can be seen in the First Lady’s garden.  Listen to a great NPR story from this past May on how the garden came about and why it is an important aspect of presenting the U.S. to foreign publics.

“It’s really important because they’re going to talk about some tough issues with one another,” Marshall said. “We want the framework of those tough discussions to be relaxing, to be welcoming, to be inviting.”
Marshall says that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the State Department recently, he was surprised and pleased to find good hummus at the table.  My colleague’s crowdsourcing project, JEWCER, has a project titled, “Hummus Wars” which brings together foodies and publics of Israel and Lebanon for the coveted title of “best hummus.”Christopher James, the State Department’s deputy chef, said they use a spice visitors are accustomed to or they present a dish in a way that has never been seen before in their country.

And when China’s Vice President Xi Jinping visited this year, a top Chinese-American chef was brought in to cook Chinese delicacies. “Vice President Xi’s eyes lit up,” Marshall said. “He was so honored by the gesture.”

What I think is missing is the story.  Rarely do we use foreign foods, dishes, recipes, and spices to inform our narrative of  U.S. foreign policy to global publics.  By integrating this story and our values behind it, we can demonstrate respect, engagement, and listening through the food to deepen international relationships.

Even this week, acclaimed chef, Jose Andres, created the menu for a meeting of protocol chiefs from all over the world.  He went on to say, “I believe that dinner, gathering people around a table, you have a true opportunity to send hidden messages,” Andres said. “… Through a menu and through the food that you put on a plate.”

To remind the foreign diplomats of the tragic losses and recovery from Hurricane Katrina, Andres served Louisiana Gulf shrimp. “Doing this simple gesture all of a sudden at the State Department is sending a message that we need to be supporting American ingredients, we need to be supporting our fishermen.”

It would be hard to prove that good food makes for better diplomacy especially at a time when nations are so sharply divided on so many issues – but don’t tell that to Andres, who believes all things are possible through food. He said, “With better food and a happy table, probably, probably, we will have a better world, a happier world.”

To watch CBS News’ piece on Clinton’s food diplomacy project, click here.

To watch Jose Andres’ 2011 TED talk, “Creativity in Cooking Can Solve Our Biggest Challenges.”

Links to others talking about food diplomacy:

Twitter:  Gastrodiplomacy


Smorgesboard LA – Exploring the Culinary Underbelly of Los Angeles

Culture Kitchen – Delivering Ethnic Food Kits

Miss Lunch – Lunch in the Loft

New Friends Table – Underground Supper Club in Paris and London


A good appetite, but everything tastes terrible

For a foodie, an off palate is a terrible thing to have.  While I am hungry, my palate has not been cooperative.  I have returned to eating regular food (except for raw, nuts, sugar, and bread).  I have put my toe in the water for all kinds of food, however nothing hits the spot.

Let’s Be Frank hot dogs with grilled onions (without the bun) – no go
• Crustless quiche with mozzarella, butternut squash and pancetta – no go
•  Turkey burger, avocado and fat-free 1000 Island dressing (without the bun) – no go
•  Chicken makhani, yellow lentils, and raita – no go

What do I need to do to feel sated?  Just when I thought I was over sugar-free popsicles, I find that it is the only thing I want to eat.

It is strange that what you want and what your body wants are sometimes at odds with each other.  Taste is not singularly located in the mouth.  There are two cranial nerves that innervate the tongue and are used for taste: the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) and the glossopharyngeal nerve (cranial nerve IX).

The facial nerve innervates the anterior (front) two-thirds of the tongue and the glossopharyngeal nerve innervates that posterior (back) one-third part of the tongue.

Another cranial nerve (the vagus nerve, X) carries taste information from the back part of the mouth. The cranial nerves carry taste information into the brain to a part of the brain stem called nucleus of the solitary tract. From the nucleus of the solitary tract, taste information goes to the thalamus and then to the cerebral cortex. Like information for smell, taste information also goes to the limbic system (hypothalamus and amygdala).

Given the complex relationship between our mouth and brain, I think it is important to know what is going on post-surgery.  Many other folks post about this problem, and there isn’t a sufficient answer as to why it happens, however it does end.

I have been walking farmers’ markets, viewing cooking shows, and reading cookbooks to find inspiration, creativity, and sustenance–but it is not coming.

In light of this, I will turn my attention to people whose food and culture is foreign to me and see what blooms.  I will be spending 10 days with individuals from Norway, Netherlands, Nigeria, UAE, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, India Canada, the UK, Russia, and Eastern Europe, etc. and hope that as we get to know one another, that their food stories will give me some much-needed inspiration.

I deeply believe that the sharing of a meal connects us.  Food, cooked with love, nourishes the body, the soul, and creates relationships.  I raise my fork to gastro-diplomacy. (For more information about gastro-diplomacy, please read the following posts on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy’s website or read Paul Rockower’s blog on the Huffington Post.)

L’Aus Du Fallafel, 34 rue Des Rosiers, 4ème arr.

The BEST falafel in Paris can be found in the Jewish Quarter.  It was a religious experience.