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Gastrodiplomacy: food and culture in peace-making

    ‘We’re using food as an entry point to help people explore cultures that aren’t talked about in the mainstream media…’

    John Rubin, Co-Founder of the Conflict Kitchen

    This museum entry draws on the field of diplomatic studies to stretch our understanding of the role of food and cuisine in peacebuilding. Most people reading the phrase ‘diplomatic studies’ are likely to imagine a formal negotiation process between high-level diplomats. However, the field of diplomatic studies has increasingly recognised the potential of ‘citizen diplomacy’. Citizen diplomacy focuses on the agency of individuals within diplomatic practice, for example, through ‘gastrodiplomacy’:

    ‘a broader public diplomacy attempt to communicate culinary culture to foreign publics in a fashion that is more diffuse and tries to influence broader audiences rather than high-level elites.’

    Paul S Rockower, Recipes for Gastrodiplomacy, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 8, no. 3 (August 2012): 235–46
    “The Conflict Kitchen, with a people queuing outside and a sign advertising Iranian take-out”

    The Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, USA, illustrates how gastrodiplomacy can promote dialogue and cultural exchange through the power of food. Operating in a brick-and-mortar location between 2010-17, the Conflict Kitchen sought to educate a US audience about different cultures that were in geopolitical conflict with the US. Throughout its history, the Conflict Kitchen hosted exhibitions on cuisines from Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, and the Haudenosaunee. During each exhibition, the menu would be tailored to represent that relevant culture. In addition, educational events would be hosted. For example, in 2010, a shared dining experience was digitally held between the Conflict Kitchen and diners in Tehran, Iran. During events like this, the conversation would begin quite generic but would soon develop into a larger politico-cultural discussion between the two sets of diners.[i] Dawn Weleski, one of the co-founders of The Conflict Kitchen, argued that:

    ‘Eating the same food provided everyone with a level ground. They begun to find commonality in their experiences through the way the food smells and tastes.’

    Cultural Diplomacy at the Axis of Evil Cafe

    The sensory aspect of food noted by Weleski is incredibly important to the impact of gastrodiplomacy. Rockower argues that gastrodiplomacy builds emotional linkages that enhance cultural engagement and cross-cultural dialogue at a subconscious level rather than a rational level.[ii] We can infer that gastrodiplomacy can promote grassroots peacebuilding by breaking down boundaries between cultures through mixing positive social experiences with cultural education. In this sense, gastrodiplomacy can have a transformative effect on how we approach cultural differences and conflicts – especially by offering a nonintrusive and natural path towards cross-cultural connections, which is unlikely to happen otherwise.

    The Conflict Kitchen is not an outlier in its approach. NGO and citizen-led gastrodiplomatic initiatives can be found across the world. The peacebuilding charity, International Alert, established a similar ‘Conflict Cafes’ in London. Moreover, the A-Sham Arabic Food Festival pairs Arabic and Israeli chefs together to share in the creation of traditional recipes. What underpins all these approaches is the principle that peace is not built between world leaders but is created at the individual level, with food offering a perfect medium to build peace due to its universality among the differing cultures of humanity in shared dining experiences and ability to promote positive emotional associations.[iii] As a result, we all have the capacity and perhaps even a responsibility to engage in minor acts of gastrodiplomacy. Dr Nof Atamna Ismaeel, the founder of the A-Sham Arabic Food Festival recognised in a 2019 documentary ‘Breaking Bread’, argued that the power of gastrodiplomacy in peacebuilding is reliant upon participation to create wide-ranging impacts:

    ‘You’re going to use food to bring world peace? No, I am going to use food change a few people and if other people do the same, then maybe we will succeed together to do some huge change.’

    Breaking Bread

    Reflecting upon Dr Nof Atamna Ismaeel’s words, I think we have more opportunity to promote change than we think. For example, as a member of the Polish diaspora in the UK, I recently hosted a dinner showcasing some traditional Polish foods. In attendance was a Jewish friend from the USA, and we quickly realised the similarities between our traditional cuisines over the course of the meal. As a result, this encounter inspired me to learn more about traditional Jewish cuisine as well as the Kosher diet, a topic I had previously not considered educating myself about. Such encounters in gastrodiplomacy may be small and spontaneous, but they are key if we wish to exercise agency in implementing the huge change aspired to by Dr Nof Atamna Ismaeel and creating a socially just and peaceful society that draws strength from diversity and shared humanity rather than ostracising individuals due to a fear of difference.

    However, it is important to recognise that access to food is not a guarantee for every human being. According to the UN, up to 811 million people faced hunger in 2021.[iv] Furthermore, reader, you can likely name at least one conflict which has created hunger and food insecurity in the world – no matter how far you read this from the time of publication. Today, hunger and food insecurity are bringing great suffering amid the Israeli-Palestine conflict; and famine is occurring also as a result of conflict in Yemen and Sudan. While we cannot be sure which conflict will break out next, it is almost guaranteed that food insecurity will be prevalent. Climate change only risks further exacerbating food insecurity around the world, and addressing this is incredibly important for achieving societal or international peace. While gastrodiplomacy cannot directly contribute to that, it does help us understand the multifaceted role that food can play in pursuing peace.

    In the context of conflict, food should not be viewed solely in terms of security/insecurity. Food is not just an ‘end’ of peace, it can also be a ‘means’ to achieve peace. Gastrodiplomacy can even illustrate how food insecurity can impact culture, with the Conflict Kitchen’s Palestine exhibition recounting first- hand accounts of struggles in accessing food. Theoretically, gastrodiplomacy’s recognition of food insecurity could further highlight this important problem, and encourage individuals to take small steps in promoting food security. When we visualise peace, it is worthwhile that we stretch our understanding of peace’s relationship to food and seek to understand how food culture has an innate ability to promote peace.  

    What do you think?

    • Do you think that food culture and cuisine could sometimes pose a challenge to peacebuilding rather than being an opportunity?
    • Can you think of any occasions when you have acted as a gastrodiplomat?
    • Do you think the narrative around food and peace focuses too much on security?
    • Can you reflect upon other aspects of culture that can play a similar role to food/shared dining in citizen diplomacy and our visualisation of peacebuilding?

    If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

    You may also enjoy ‘The Role of NGOs in Peace‘, ‘Peace in Faith and Practice: Mediation and Disarmament‘ and ‘Twenty-Five Years of the Good Friday Agreement and the Challenges of Grassroots Peacebuilding‘.

    Jakub Lewandowski, March 2024

    [i] Paul S Rockower, “Recipes for Gastrodiplomacy,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 8, no. 3 (August 2012): 235–46,

    [ii] Paul S Rockower, “The State of Gastrodiplomacy,” Public Diplomacy Magazine, no. 11 (2014): 12–17.

    [iii] The Conflict Cuisine Project, “Is the Kitchen the New Venue of Foreign Policy?: Ideas on Food as a Tool for Diplomacy, Building Peace and Cultural Awareness,” JSTOR, 2016,

    [iv] Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021” (S.L.: Food & Agriculture Org, 2021),

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