Posted by Flux on 

27 October 2020

Have you ever wondered why Thai food is ubiquitous around the world? The answer lies in a foreign policy trend called gastrodiplomacy which refers to the practice of using cuisine to foster relationships between countries and boost a country’s brand image.

This is an example of soft power – a non-coercive form of influence – which in this instance, uses culture to win international favour. It may result in a multitude of economic benefits including a boost in tourism, increased agricultural exports and a more prominent and positive global profile.

The Asian nations are pioneers at using food to brand their countries. Thailand was the first country to introduce gastrodiplomacy to the world. In 2002, it launched its multifaceted “Global Thai” campaign to boost the number of Thai restaurants worldwide, with the government granting loans to its nationals living abroad to open restaurants. Since 2002 the number of establishments selling Thai dishes outside the country has tripled to over 15,000.The programme has contributed to a substantial increase in tourism.

Commonly referred to as “kimchi diplomacy”, South Korea is another champion of this tool. In addition to government funding for restaurants, there have been other innovative promotional campaigns. The Kimchi Bus Project was one of them. Launched in 2011, South Korean chef Si-Hyeon Ryu travelled to 32 countries around the world in a red bus promoting his country’s cuisine. Yi So-yeon, the first Korean in space, hosted a traditional kimchi dinner for her fellow astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

In a new development, Durban Indian cuisine is now being put forward as an instrument of gastrodiplomacy for South Africa. A June 2020 white paper in the African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure recommends that the city utilises this gastronomic excellence to attract tourists to the city, while leveraging India’s gastrodiplomacy efforts in the African region. According to the study, it would be mutually beneficial for both nations: ethnic Indian restaurants in Durban would be a drawcard while acting as emissaries for Indian culture.

Research in Australia has identified food and wine as key factors in holiday decision making and the most important emotive trigger, ahead of world class beauty, for influencing people’s destination choices.

In line with this, a  growing number of governments are acknowledging the tremendous potential that food has to cultivate economic opportunities. In the words of American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him … the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

By Faeeza Khan

Image credit: Jakub Kapusnak

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