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German Gastrodiplomacy in the Midwest
Setting the table for diplomacy

© Davis Spencer

As the saying goes, “the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach”. But what is gastrodiplomacy all about? As program coordinator for the Goethe Pop Up Kansas City, I will offer some food for thought on gastrodiplomacy as a concept, and how German food and drinks serve as ambassadors in the Midwest.

By Julia Pataky

Before diving into the German culinary scene in Kansas City, MO, it’s important to understand the idea behind gastrodiplomacy, its ingredients, and all of its different flavors. While food and national cuisines have been a crucial element of traditional diplomacy since ancient times, the idea of gastrodiplomacy emerged in the early 2000s when Thailand used its cuisine as part of a public diplomacy campaign aimed at promoting Thai culinary art and culture to the world. Distinct from culinary diplomacy, which is typically used as a way of enhancing traditional diplomacy in the context of official diplomatic functions like visits by ambassadors, gastrodiplomacy aims to create a dialogue by communicating culture through food to a larger foreign audience.

But how effective is breaking bread to win hearts and minds really? For starters, we’ve already established that food is one of the oldest diplomatic tools on the menu. In scholarly research, food plays a role in anthropology, globalization, cultural and culinary tourism, postcolonialism, philosophy, and history. Anthropologists argue that communal eating has played such an essential role in human evolution because of its power to facilitate bonding and maintain social cohesion within communities. In fact, the latest research shows that agreeable behaviors and positive attitudes saw an increase during communal eating.

As such, it makes sense for states to leverage the special role of eating and drinking as part of their public diplomacy strategies. As a matter of fact, the number of countries that use their national cuisine to build and foster relationships with other nations has significantly risen in recent years. Among them is the U.S., who started its Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative in 2012 with the goal of fostering cross-cultural exchange through food. The initiative contains elements of both culinary and gastrodiplomacy, such as collaborations with renowned chefs and culinary leaders in the context of traditional diplomatic functions, and a cultural exchange component which brings young chefs from over 20 countries to the U.S. for a culinary tour of the country.

Now, it’s clear that food matters, particularly in Kansas City, MO. One of the first things you’ll hear upon arriving in Kansas City is that it has the best barbecue in the U.S. and competes with its rivals in Texas and the Carolinas. But how present is German gastrodiplomacy in Kansas City, and how well is the German culinary scene received there? In my upcoming blogs, I will take you on a culinary journey with the goal of expanding my culinary horizon, but probably also my waistline.