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  • Writer's pictureBasak Gizem Yasadur

The Way To A Diplomats's Heart Is Through His Stomach

I always take my foreign friends to try a traditional Turkish Breakfast. During these long and elaborate breakfasts, I realized that I was giving them more than just a culinary experience. As I explained the food and drinks on the table, I was also sharing a part of our culture. The same goes for our traditional dinner table, where we enjoy various Meze and Raki.


Each delicious dish we serve reflects a side of our cultural heritage and has a unique story behind it. The experience of being tourist allows you to discover and combine these pieces of heritage at every table we sit at is one of the most exciting aspects of exploring country, culture, and traditions.

In recent times, governments have started to recognize the significance of the relationships formed over meals as a soft power indicator in the international arena. This is a relatively new development that has gained popularity among policymakers. gastro-diplomacy was explained by Paul Rockower as "a method of reaching hearts and minds through people's stomachs”. (1)



When we consider the people we sit down to eat with, we can observe that sharing a meal creates a welcoming and intimate atmosphere that helps to break down barriers. When this practice is applied to the realms of diplomacy and negotiation, dining together can provide an ideal setting for fostering intercultural understanding and empathy among those seated at the table.


The chefs and the entire kitchen team are the most important contributors to this establishment. They put our cultural heritage, identity and traditions on the plate. Thus, the kitchen ceases to have only gastronomic value and becomes a new element in the fields of diplomacy/negotiation.

The Global-Thai program, which was supported by the Thai government in 2002, puts Thailand in a very assertive position in the field of gastro-diplomacy. This initiative aimed to increase the number of Thai restaurants around the world and popularize Thai cuisine. Before the Global Thai program started, there were 5,500 Thai restaurants outside Thailand's borders, but today it has increased to over 15,000 worldwide. Today, it is possible to see the types of Samosa Diplomacy (India), Kimchi Diplomacy (South Korea) and Sushi Diplomacy (Japan), which are continued with stability and success, especially by the Far East and Asian countries. (6)


Governments can successfully promote their culture and increase empathy towards their identities by highlighting authentic gastronomic values. This is what makes gastro-diplomacy unique as an indirect soft power tool. Before governments started to apply gastro-diplomacy, there was another element that created this effect, albeit unintentionally. I'm talking about diaspora communities. For example, Chinese and Indian communities who have been living in the USA for years have unknowingly contributed to the soft power of their countries by expanding their restaurants.



Some sources claim that from a traditional perspective, gastro-diplomacy can only be realized when it is financed by the government, and that private initiatives such as Starbucks, McDonald's or Nusr-Et cannot be included since they are not an ancient part of the cultural heritage. In my opinion, it is not right to exclude the private sector from the context if they offer exceptional iconic products that are new to the culture. I simply think that Starbucks reflects the recent USA culture while Nusr-Et (Saltbae) does the same for Türkiye. I can not see why we would have to exclude them, especially while seeing how iconic they have become worldwide. Since culture is a flow that changes and develops with us, is it important whether it is an initiative from the state or the private sector? In fact, when it comes to such exceptional products, potential cooperation between the government and the private sector, together with authentic restaurants, can be a very powerful investment point. So what do you think about this?


Gastro-diplomacy can effortlessly increase mutual understanding and empathy between people who have lived together in the past, especially in these times when right-wing movements are on the rise.

For instance, Raki, a Turkish alcoholic beverage, is commonly known as 'Lion's Milk'. However, few people know that this nickname was originated from the lion symbol on the bottle produced by the Anastapoulos Brothers for Turkish Raki, who are of Greek origin and lived in Izmir. This fusion of cultures has led Turks to refer to Raki as the Lion's Milk today. Yes, Raki is %100 a Turkish originated drink but still it is possible to see the influence on the nickname thanks to our neighbors can remain amongst the nations that lived closely. Furthermore, fusion cuisine, which has become very popular in the gastronomy world, has the potential to create new channels for intercultural interaction.


Photo by svklimkin on Unsplash


According to an experiment conducted by Lakshmi Balachandra, it was observed that students who negotiated in restaurants made a profit of 12 percent more than those who negotiated without eating. Similarly, those who negotiated while eating in the conference room made 11 percent more profit. This could be attributed to the fact that increased glucose levels during eating can improve complex brain activities, strengthen self- control, and reduce prejudice and aggressive behavior. (7)


While gastro-diplomacy alone cannot resolve conflicts, it can be a useful tool for conflict resolution if used strategically and actively. Gastronomy, which is a form of non-verbal expression, can create an environment of closeness and trust during negotiations and hence, can be an effective instrument for conflict resolution.


References

1- Rockower, Paul S. “Recipes for Gastrodiplomacy,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 8, (2012): 235- 246.

2- Eroglu, Pelin. Öztürk, Betül. ''A Study on the Concept of Gastrodiplomacy: The Case of Turkish Breakfast Day'' Aydın Adnan Menderes University Journal of Travel and Tourism Research 23, (2023) 84-102

3- Soner, Fikret. ''Gastrodiplomasi: Gastronomiye Diplomasi Penceresinden Bakıs'' Anatolia: Turizm Araştırmaları Dergisi, Cilt 33, Sayı 2, Güz: 97 - 101, 2022

5- Simsek, Aydın. '' Rakı ve Türk Rakı Sofrasındaki Yemek Kültürü'' ETÜ Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi S:12, Nisan 2021, 76-95


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