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“La destinée des nations dépend de la manière dont elles se nourrissent”
(The destiny of nations depends on how they nourish themselves.)
– Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (Brillat-Savarin, 1838, 19)
A state’s cuisine is a central part of both its national identity and history that preserves traditions and provides a cultural commonality that transcends the boundaries between states (Lipscomb, 2019, par 1). Accordingly, in the spirit of food and drink, a more intimate strategy of diplomacy arises, one called gastrodiplomacy (Rockower, 2014, 13). This is an increasingly popular government-sponsored strategy used to push past cultural and linguistic barriers and unite in the shared love of international cuisine. Gastrodiplomacy allows for an unbarred cultural exchange of knowledge, communication, and diplomatic relations (Barile, 2019, 15). Developed nations have historically made frequent use of gastrodiplomacy; however, it is a relatively understudied subject in academia and there is an uneven distribution of this particular strategy. More precisely, gastrodiplomatic projects have been primarily undertaken by states located in East and Southeast Asia. Thus, this paper aims to understand the reasoning behind this regional gastro-diplomatic concentration. (Rockower, 2014, see also: Lipscomb, 2019, pars 1).
In formally defining gastrodiplomacy, it is important to note that its central function is as a form of nonverbal communication. When language and cultural differences prevent verbal communication between states and in particular, diplomats, commonality can be found through shared cuisine. To impress a particular guest, diplomats and heads of states will often serve a classic dish or a wide variety of local foods from the visiting guest’s native state. Such an action was exemplified during the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings in the late 1980s. President Ronald Reagan “served Russian caviar to show respect, as well as a California wine from the Russian River Valley, in reference not only to Reagan’s home state but in a subtle homage to the history of Russian immigrants in the area” (Chapple-Sokol, 2013, 24). In a sense, gastrodiplomacy endeavors to strike the emotional connections of sharing food rather than expanding its influence through direct activism. More precisely, it is a “‘tender-minded’ form of public diplomacy” (Suntikul, 2017, 4) that relies on creating mutual understanding through the contact hypothesis, the notion that food is a powerful stimulus for gathering people together. (Rockower, 2012, 32). In “breaking bread” and sharing a meal, there is an increase in familiarity as well as a de-escalation in hostilities. (Rockower, 2014, see also: Lipscomb, 2019 par 2).
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Thus, “gastrodiplomacy” is defined as a “concerted and sustained campaigns of public relations and investment by governments and states, often in collaboration with non-state actors…” to strengthen and spread diplomacy through food (Rockower, 2012, 235-246 paraphrased in “What is Gastrodiplomacy”, 2019). In light of this definition, it is also critical to differentiate between gastrodiplomacy and culinary diplomacy as these terms are not interchangeable. To reiterate, gastrodiplomacy aims to increase recognition and understanding of international culinary traditions for a larger and more public audience, not simply diplomats (Rockower, 2012, 12). In contrast, culinary diplomacy uses food and dining experiences to nurture bilateral ties specifically with visiting dignitaries including heads of state, ambassadors, and other national representatives (Rockower, 2012, 12).
Upon officially defining gastrodiplomacy and its customs, it is critical to determine why this concentration exists with East and Southeast Asia. To do so, three theories and one rationale will be evaluated. For one, gastrodiplomacy is used as a culinary offensive as these Asian nations exist in a world dominated by Westernized foods, thus the practice is used to increase their name recognition and respective cultures. Second, there is an economic incentive to engage in gastrodiplomacy as a means of globalizing the East and Southeast Asian culinary markets. This increase in economic visibility spurs on the tourism industry of these regionally concentrated states, which in turn expands their domestic economies. Third, there is a political use of gastrodiplomacy as these East and Southeast Asian countries use international cuisine to build diplomatic relations and de-escalate tensions, ultimately extending their “soft” power influence abroad. A final theory is the diffusion effect, which argues that Thailand was the first Asian country to successfully implement gastrodiplomacy, inspiring other Asian countries to do the same.
To assess the validity of these theories, four case studies will be drawn from as well as one “shadow” case study. Accordingly, there will be four Asian countries and a brief discussion of a Western country. To be more precise, each case study will be explained through one of the three theories and the one rationale. These countries include Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, the United States, and South Korea. Upon the evaluation of each theory/rationale, there will be an ultimate conclusion of which theory or rationale provide the best explanation for why this East and Southeast Asian gastrodiplomatic concentration exists. It is also important to note that while one case study is used to describe each theory/rationale, the other case studies may also have had these objectives in mind when undergoing gastrodiplomatic efforts.
The History of Gastrodiplomacy:
Gastrodiplomacy as an official term has only been around since the early 2000s, whereas the practice of culinary diplomacy has been in place since 4th century BC. While gastrodiplomacy targets a larger public audience, not simply diplomats, the practice arguably has its roots in the more traditional art of culinary diplomacy. Alexander the Great, the king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, utilized the culinary diplomatic practice of hosting public dinners to welcome both foreign and Athenian ambassadors as they would dine together and share a common meal (Luša and Jakešević, 2017). The Greeks believed that the “importance of shared meals ‘ lay in the fact that those who shared in food and drinks, also shared in thought and diplomatic conduct’” (Constantinou, 1996, 130 quoted in Luša and Jakešević, 2017). However, the specific practice of culinary diplomacy and the ultimate birth of gastrodiplomacy were best connected to 19th-century France and “haute cuisine”. More precisely, following the French Revolution, French chefs opened up their restaurants to serve the Bourgeoisie, the 19th-century elite, enabling Paris to soon become the gastronomic capital of Europe. For instance, Napoleon Bonaparte’s chief diplomat hired Marie-Antoine Carême with the primary purpose of cooking for elite guests from abroad (Poon, 2014, 17). As former Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin declared, for the French, ‘the table is the place where power has influence, where tensions are erased, and where relations are built’” (Watfa and Pallister, 2017 quoted in Luša and Jakešević, 2017).
Therefore, while gastrodiplomatic tendencies have been around for years, the term was officially coined in 2002. The term was introduced “in an Economist article on Thailand’s public diplomacy campaign to promote its culinary work to the world” (“Food as Ambassador: “Thailand’s Gastrodiplomacy”, 2002). Since its official name recognition, gastrodiplomacy’s popularity has increased. In modern times, gastrodiplomatic actors are “no longer constrained to state politicians and their chefs”, but now include “food corporations, celebrity chefs, tourist agencies, public relations firms, TV cooking shows, and especially social media” (“Food as Ambassador: “Thailand’s Gastrodiplomacy”, 2002)
However, it is also important to note that food may not always serve diplomatic means and instead, it can become a source of inter-state conflict. For instance, “food wars” have taken place over hummus (Israel/Lebanon), falafel (Israel/Palestine), and baklava (Turkey/Greece) (Copuroglu, 2018). As a consequence of these diplomatic spats, food increasingly became a political tool that heightened tensions between those countries, ultimately leading to economic sanctions and embargoes. In the Cold War period, food even transformed into an ideological weapon. In fact, during the Berlin Blockade of 1949, when all access to West Berlin was blocked by the Soviets, the Allies used food as their weapon against the Communists. They organized the Berlin Airlift to transfer food and other supplies to West Berlin and even crafted a poster of a girl holding a glass of milk and the headline: “‘Milk…. The new weapon of democracy’” (Standage, 2009, 156 quoted in Chappe-Sokol, 2013, 23).
Accordingly, food is often associated with public diplomacy and soft power; however, as evidenced by the Berlin Blockade and embargoes as a consequence of food wars, food may be associated with hard power as well. In other words, a nation’s cuisine does not solely serve diplomatic means but can also represent a means of political communication “to communicate ideas, values, identities, and attitudes” (Luša and Jakešević, 2017). Thus, food serves multiple purposes, yet this paper will focus on the role it plays in diplomatic practice and discourse.
Where Gastrodiplomacy is Utilized:
While this paper will particularly focus on the gastrodiplomatic efforts of four countries, it is worth noting that eight major countries have undertaken gastrodiplomatic campaigns. These countries have come to recognize that sharing their national dishes offers an advantageous public diplomacy opportunity. The eight countries include Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, the United States, Peru, Japan, and Australia (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2015). While there are outliers (Peru, Australia, and the United States), it is critical to highlight that five of the eight gastrodiplomatic countries are East and Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan).
Thailand, upon launching its 2002 “Global Thai” Campaign, introduced the formal role of gastrodiplomacy on the international stage. The campaign worked to expand the number of Thai Restaurants as well as make dishes like Pad Thai more internationally recognizable (Karp, 2018). In 2010, Taiwan’s launched its gastrodiplomacy campaign, titled: “All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan”. Referred to as the “Dim Sum diplomacy this campaign invested $34.2 million over four years to raise Taiwan’s international brand, including its cultural, culinary, and commercial sectors” (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2015). Furthermore, “The Malaysia Kitchen Program”, the name of Malaysia’s gastrodiplomacy initiative targeted five key markets: the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, China, and New Zealand. It debuted in 2006 and the campaign focused on making the country the “halal hub” of the Muslim world (Alagappa, 2014).
Moreover, in Peru, the government began a 2006 gastrodiplomacy campaign called “Perú Mucho Gusto.” This slogan, in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, means both “Peru, nice to meet you” and “Peru, lots of flavors” (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2015). This double-entendre serves to underscore the role of gastrodiplomacy in introducing a country’s culture and flavors to the world. This campaign included the international installation of Peruvian restaurants, the funding of national cookbooks, and expensive food festivals.Similarly, South Korea launched the 2008 “Global Hansik Program” a $77-million initiative known globally as the “Kimchi Diplomacy” (Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2015). It marked South Korea’s gastrodiplomatic debut as it worked to “increase the number of Korean restaurants overseas and establish Korean food as a major international cuisine by 2017” (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2015).
Similarly, Australia’s government founded “Restaurant Australia”, a year-long initiative that targeted 12 global markets. This gastrodiplomatic campaign included a seven-day gastronomic tour of Australia by a team of 80 global influencers who posted about their experiences on various social media platforms (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2018). The United States launched the Culinary Diplomacy Partnership Initiative, where 80 chefs were named members of the “American Chef Corps”. The program worked towards sending members of the Chef Corps to American embassies abroad to teach them about American cuisine (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2018).
Finally, the Japanese also undertook a gastrodiplomatic campaign, “Shoku-bunka kenkyū suishin kondankai” (Food Research Promotion Discussion Group), a diplomatic blend of culinary tradition and state strategy. Following this campaign, “the non-profit organization “Japanese Restaurants Overseas” was created to invest in and develop restaurants showcasing traditional Japanese ingredients, culinary techniques and design/cultural aesthetics”. (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nation”, 2018). To reiterate the discussion in this section, there are nine countries throughout the world employing various tactics and initiatives to carry out gastrodiplomacy.
Four Theories of Gastrodiplomacy:
Culinary Offensive Theory
In first focusing on the culinary offensive theory, East and Southeast Asian countries undertake gastrodiplomatic campaigns to raise awareness of their cultural dishes; thereby increasing their name recognition in a world dominated by Western foods. More precisely, gastrodiplomacy gives “under-recognized, “middle power” nations the ability to increase their cultural visibility” and expand their international influence (Lipscomb, 2019, see also: Rockower, 2014). Middle power states can be defined as affluent, small or medium-sized countries that do not own nuclear weapons and do not retain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (Oosterveld and Torossian, 2018). This theory is especially exemplified with the Taiwanese case study as the state has received diplomatic recognition from only nineteen states, none of which are considered “Western” countries. This tenuous diplomatic recognition results from past tensions between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, leaving Taiwan with few formal diplomatic allies or relations (Lipscomb, 2019). Moreover, Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations and has a global reputation of being “little more than the mass-production workshop of the world”; thus, these factors also contribute to its lack of conventional relations (Booth, 2010).
Consequently, Taiwan must rely on cultural diplomacy to sculpt its middle power identity to move past “its diplomatic isolation and continue to spread its culture abroad” (Rockower, 2011 as paraphrased in Lipscomb, 2019). Gastrodiplomacy offers a distinct way for “Taiwan to brand its cuisine as a healthy, light alternative to the heavy image associated with Western versions of Chinese food’’’ (Rockower, 2011 quoted in Lipscomb, 2019).” Accordingly, in 2010, the country launched its “All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan”, a campaign that involves establishing Taiwanese restaurants abroad (in airports, malls, stores), creating a Taiwanese food organization, “hosting international gourmet festivals, and sending Taiwanese chefs to international culinary competitions” (Lipscomb 2019, see also: Rockower, 2011). As a result of the campaign, the Taiwanese bakery chain. 85°C Bakery Cafe, went international and now has over 1,000 locations around the world (“Taiwanese Gastrodiplomacy 2.0”, 2010). In fact, the chain now has 59 shops established in the United States, arguably demonstrating a culinary encroachment within a region dominated by Western nations’ cuisine.
Taiwanese chains like 85°C Bakery Cafe have helped Taiwan increase its culinary identity abroad. Taiwanese night markets became such as a success at home, it was exported outward towards the Western region in the form of the 626 Night Market in Arcadia, California, the “OC Night Market in Orange County, the NorCal Night Market in San Francisco, and many other locations in Philadelphia, New York, and even Vancouver” (Lipscomb, 2019, see also: Shyong, 2017). In its marketing of genuine Asian street food and its photogenic Asian fusion dishes, these Taiwanese night markets were able to tap into a culinary realm previously dominated by Western powers. In fact, social media played a major role in advertising these night markets abroad and the increasing Taiwanese name recognition (Lipscomb, 2019).
To raise global awareness of its name-brand, the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau created the hashtag #timefortaiwan and offered raffle prizes for those who took a picture of their night market foods or beverages (such as Taiwanese Bubble Tea) and posted the photo on Instagram using the hashtag. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau proceeded to create individual Instagram accounts for different regions such as one for “North America, Singapore, India, Australia, and New Zealand signaling a localized, targeted message to each zone” (Lipscomb, 2010). By launching successful culinary initiatives within regions primarily dominated by Western powers’ cuisines like the United States, Taiwan was able to increase its name recognition and spread the culinary cuisine of East Asia. Accordingly, the Taiwanese case study provides strong evidence for the culinary offensive theory.
Economic Incentive Theory:
“Middle power” countries in East and Southeast Asia are diverse but less affluent in comparison to Western powers. Therefore, a country like South Korea, according to the second theory, undertakes a gastrodiplomatic campaign to boost both its domestic economy in terms of tourism as well as its global economy as it increases the exports of South Korean food and beverage products. More precisely, in regard to tourism, South Korea offers a diverse range of dishes, creating a positive association between South Korean culture and cuisine for visitors. In turn, these positive dining experiences drive consumers’ desires to visit an East Asian country like South Korea.
Accordingly, in 2008, this economic incentive played a major role in the launching of the “Global Hansik Program” otherwise known as the “Kimchi Diplomacy” (Field, 1995). The focus of the campaign was to market an international Korean food culture by increasing the number of Korean restaurants overseas. Moreover, in the globalization of Korean food and the creation of a national brand, the campaign aimed to make South Korea a more attractive tourist destination as well as support Korean culinary businesses abroad via investments. In regard to its environmentally-food such as kimchi (Lipscomb, 2019). In fact, a 2006 Gallup poll reported that kimchi was the primary component that distinguishes South Korea from other countries and cultures, “more so than the Korean national anthem or the country’s national colors” (Phan, 2013,15, 7). Moreover, South Korea hosted a multitude of events abroad to market its cuisine. For example, “the Korean Food Foundation worked with nine Korean restaurants to drive a food truck around New York City and hand out free Korean lunches” (Lipscomb, 2019, see also: Pham, 2013,10). In doing so, new American audiences had the opportunity to experience Korean food as they might not have otherwise tried it.
As a primary economic goal of this campaign, one of the restaurant chains which received financial support from the South Korean government was the bibimbap restaurant chain, Bibigo. This chain had recently expanded outside of South Korea into major cities like Los Angeles, Singapore, and Beijing. In receiving government loans from South Korea, the chain was able to open 17 international storefronts in 2012 (“How South Korea Uses Kimchi to Connect to The World and Beyond”, 2016). The restaurant considers itself to be an “informal cultural ambassador” for the Hansik campaign, stating: “We are at the forefront of promoting Korean culture abroad, winning hearts, minds, and stomachs of food enthusiasts all over the world, one person at a time” (CJ Foodville, 2010 quoted in Pham, 2013).
Accordingly, in regard to economic ventures, South Korea has succeeded in its global development of Korean conglomerations, as was the case for the owner of the bibimbap chain, CJ Foodville. In fact, “37 South Korean franchise restaurants manage 210 restaurants around the world and the 2011 FutureBrand Country Brand Index (CBI) reported that South Korea was ranked 21 out of 110 countries as being good for business” (Pham, 2013, 19, see also: “FutureBrand Country Index”, 2016). To be specific, the CBI is a well-known nation brand index that takes into account a nation’s brand on the basis of its business, culture, and tourism. Furthermore, one news report cited that a large number of South Korean “‘restaurant franchises have made inroads into foreign markets over the past few years, riding on the increasing popularity of Korean dishes abroad’” (Hyo-sik, 2012 quoted in Pham, 2013). This increased popularity was a critical outcome of the campaign’s 2011 decision to appoint five Koreans to be culinary ambassadors, the Bibimbap Backpackers. The backpackers would embark on an eight-month-long international tour to introduce Korean cuisine such as the famous Bibigo bowls to foreign audiences (Forman, 2016). They were able to attract over 8,000 people across 30 countries; and so, successfully marketing Korean cuisine.
Accordingly, this international tour, as well as the expansion of Korean restaurants overseas, are gastrodiplomatic initiatives that work to enhance the public perception of South Korea as “destination Korea”. It is critical to note that an increase in tourism would help boost the domestic economy of South Korea as well as its national brand. Before its gastrodiplomatic campaign, almost seven million tourists visited South Korea in 2008; however, upon launching the Hansik program at the end of that same year, South Korea received approximately a million more tourists in 2009 than it did in 2008. To be more precise, 7.8 million tourists visited South Korea in 2009 (“Korea, Monthly Statistics of Tourism | Key Facts on Tourism | Tourism Statistics”, 2019). Moreover, the Korean Tourism Organization accurately predicted that the number of international visitors would surpass 10 million by 2012 as the country received 11.14 million foreign visitors (“Korea, Monthly Statistics of Tourism | Key Facts on Tourism | Tourism Statistics”, 2019). While the increase in tourism may not have been entirely caused by the Hansik initiative, it is clear that South Korea’s gastrodiplomatic efforts did positively impact its tourism industry. Accordingly, both the success of the Korean restaurants overseas and the backpacker initiative demonstrate South Korea’s, and specifically the Hansik Campaign’s, fulfillment of its economic objective. This objective aimed to expand South Korea’s domestic economy through tourism and international markets by increasing the brand recognition and popularity of Korean food companies.
Political Incentive Rationale
The third explanation for why this gastrodiplomatic concentration exists is rooted in political incentives as East and Southeast Asian countries undertake culinary projects to extend their “soft” power influence abroad. In spreading their cuisine overseas, these countries aim to de-escalate tensions and build diplomatic relations with foreign countries. The term “soft power” was coined by Joseph Nye, as “the ability to co-opt people rather than coerce them to achieve the desired results through attraction.” (Nye, 2009, 153). In other words, it is a form of persuasion that wins influence through non-coercive means, which is in direct opposition to hard power that relies on coercion and payment to pierce the political environment of a country (Walker, 2018, 10). A country’s soft power is primarily derived from three sources or a combination of all three, foreign policy, cultural values, or political agenda. The practice endeavors to influence the hearts and minds of foreign audiences. As cited by gastrodiplomatic theorists such as Paul Rockower, food has historically been used as a type of soft power to create a culturally infused code that draws nations closer together, but also to improve the perception of a “destination” country (Rockower, 2012, 17).
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This political incentive theory is particularly relevant to Malaysia as it is an emerging middle power that has yet to achieve absolute middle power status. Traditional middle powers (South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan) are democratic, affluent, stable, but not overwhelmingly influential in their particular geographic region (Wisdom, 2014). In comparison, emerging middle powers like Malaysia are inherently unequal and recently democratized states. Such states favor regional integration as they do not benefit from the hegemonic order in relation to core countries, but they do take advantage of this order when constructing identities distinct from the weaker states in their region. Accordingly, a country like Malaysia aims to play a large role outside of its immediate Southeastern region; however, it lacks the hard power resources to do so.
To account for this, Malaysia is a member of regional, multilateral institutions that seek to extend its political clout in Southeast Asia and beyond (Alagappa, 2014). They are an increasingly “influential member of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 56-state body” that seeks to promote economic, social, and political solidarity amongst fellow Muslim countries (Alagappa, 2014). In the hopeful extension of its soft power influence, Malaysia aims to move past its “emerging” middle power status towards a more politically powerful position on the global stage. To achieve this objective the country uses its active involvement in regional organizations, but also gastrodiplomatic efforts to project its political influence. The Malaysian state complements its increasingly influential role in the region and the Muslim world, by actively employing the soft power tool of gastrodiplomacy.
Accordingly, Malaysia’s major gastrodiplomatic project was ‘The Malaysia Kitchen Program”, which targeted five markets: the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, China, and New Zealand. The 2006 initiative broadly aimed to increase awareness of its Peranakan Cuisine, a fusion of Malay and Chinese flavoring Moreover, the campaign also sought to highlight its overseas Malaysian restaurants through cooking demonstrations at gourmet and seasonal night markets (“Governments Find Their Way to the Public’s Heart – Through the Stomach”, 2013). However, the campaign specifically focused on crafting a national brand as the “halal hub” of the Muslim world (Alagappa, 2014). Accordingly, it is important to note that the Muslim culinary world is centered upon the principle of “halalness”. In adhering to this principle and projecting this aspect of its cuisine to the world, Malaysia has sought “to win the hearts and minds of Muslim consumers” (Spiegel, 2012). Therefore, as a predominantly Muslim country whose official religion is Islam, Malaysia uses the concept of halal and purity in its gastrodiplomatic campaign to extend its soft power and craft the image of being a Muslim-friendly country to the non-Muslim world.
To be specific, in “The Malaysia Kitchen Program”, the campaign works to promote the availability of halal food to make Malaysia the top journey for Muslim travelers. In promoting its halal food and Islamic lifestyle via gastrodiplomatic efforts, Malaysia has become the top destination for Muslim travelers (Spence, 2016). Therefore, this gastrodiplomatic initiative became a political branding campaign such that the Malaysian government used the cultural element of food to shape the Malaysian national brand as a “halal hub” (Alagappa, 2014). To be more specific, this national brand was created with the hopes of gaining greater political capital for leverage in negotiations with core countries as well as expanding Malaysia’s outside of regional influence over peripheral countries. In doing so, the country was able to extend its soft power influence and occupy a greater global presence.
However, the notion of “soft power” is a rather abstract concept that is hard to ground in a state’s practice. More precisely, it is difficult to measure the conceptual success of soft power in tangible political practice. Furthermore, explicit gastrodiplomatic projects first emerged in the 21st century; thus, while as a concept it has been around for thousands of years, we have only recently become aware of its implementation in state practice. Consequently, it is too soon to observe the political effects of Malaysia’s gastrodiplomatic campaign as well as its success as a soft power tool.
RegionalDiffusion Effect Theory;
The first country to officially undertake a gastrodiplomatic campaign as a means of foreign diplomacy was Thailand, a country located in Southeast Asia. Accordingly, a final theory worth examining is the diffusion effect, which argues that Thailand, as the first country to successfully implement a gastrodiplomatic program, inspired other countries situated within the East and Southeast Asian region to create their culinary campaigns. Nonetheless, prior to explaining the rationale behind the diffusion effect, it is important to first delineate Thailand’s gastrodiplomatic initiative. With the intention of branding Thailand as the “Kitchen of the World’” and “‘The food basket of Asia’”, the Thai government launched the 2001 “Global Thai Campaign” (Zhang, 2015, quoted in Lipscomb, 2019). This gastrodiplomatic campaign was launched to draw away from the negative stereotype associated with Thailand’s sex tourism (Lipscomb, 2019, see also: Nuttavuthisit, 2007); therefore, the campaign worked to transform the country’s cultural image abroad and present itself as a unique tourist destination.
More precisely, the Thai government’s rationale behind the campaign was to expand its restaurants abroad to “persuade more people to visit Thailand [and] to subtly help deepen relations with other countries.” (“Food as Ambassador: Thailand’s Gastro-diplomacy”, 2002). As a whole, Thailand’s campaign proved to be a success as the government was able to maintain standardization across Thai restaurant chains abroad through practices like “Thai Select” and increase the number of their overseas restaurants. In fact, the number of Thai restaurants abroad “increased from around 5,500 in 2001 to over 13,000 in 2008”. (Lipscomb, 2019). According to Sarunya Lertputtarak, “through interactions between tourists and restaurant owners, Thai restaurants positioned themselves as spaces to teach Thai culture and treat customers in a polite, friendly manner that increased customer satisfaction towards Thailand and Thai food” (Lipscomb, 2019, see also: Lertputtarak, 2012).
Accordingly, there were two explicit goals, an economic and political incentive, in the campaign’s aim to increase the number of Thai restaurants worldwide. For instance, by sending Thai chefs to work in foreign cities and purchasing Thai ingredients, the Thai economy was expanding. Furthermore, in the overseas expansion of each Thai restaurant, Thailand was opening informal embassies as each restaurant became a new opportunity for cross-cultural engagement and nation-branding. However, an unintended result of Thailand’s pioneering culinary success is this diffusion effect. In observing a fellow Southeast Asian country’s prosperity in its creative culinary efforts, other East and Southeast Asian states felt inspired to use their respective national cuisines to promote their interests. This proliferation of gastrodiplomacy within the region also facilitated broader, more in-depth engagement between Thailand and these other Asian states.
In a sense, a domino effect took place, a coin termed during the Cold War period by President Eisenhower to describe the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia. To be more precise, the domino effect is when “you have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one [Thailand], and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly.” (President Eisenhower, 1954). For instance, the success of Thailand’s program was largely the inspiration for the launch of South Korea’s Global Hansik Program (as described earlier) in 2008. Moreover, Taiwan’s 2010 gastrodiplomatic campaign (“All in Good Taste: Savor the Flavors of Taiwan”) was also influenced by the Global Thai Program’s success (Lipscomb, 2019).
Accordingly, Thailand, as both a Southeast Asian middle power and pioneer of gastrodiplomatic efforts, unintentionally caused a “culinary diffusion effect” through its region. This is further supported by the sequencing of the case studies’ gastrodiplomatic initiatives. More precisely, following Thailand’s campaign, there is a two-year gap between each Southeast Asian country’s initiative as Malaysia’s campaign was launched in 2006, South Korea’s in 2008, and Taiwan’s in 2010. This regional spread of gastrodiplomacy is what Professor Beth Simmons and Professor Zachary Elkins describe as the diffusion effect, where “a temporal and spatial cluster exists…. [as]governments tend to implement the policies chosen by other “successful” countries… often a state’s sociocultural peers” (Simmons and Elkins, 2017, 182). Therefore, in observing Thailand’s success as the first country to implement gastrodiplomacy, the country’s regional neighbors, who share certain socio-cultural values with Thailand, feel compelled to adopt similar gastrodiplomatic efforts. While other countries outside of the region have undertaken gastrodiplomatic initiatives such as the United States and Peru, there is a heavy concentration within the East and Southeast Asian region in part because of this diffusion.
A Western Gastrodiplomatic Example
Finally, it is critical to recognize the gastrodiplomatic efforts of countries like the United States that exist outside the East and Southeast Asian region. Accordingly, the U.S. undertook a gastrodiplomatic campaign to achieve both political objectives as well as to celebrate its regional cuisine. Despite the U.S. not being a middle power, it did launch a Culinary Diplomacy Partnership in 2012 where 80 U.S. chefs would serve American dishes to the leaders of foreign countries. These chefs, named as part of the American Chef Corps, would travel overseas to educate foreign audiences about American cuisine and tradition. Accordingly, the U.S. selected chefs from various sectors of the nation to highlight its unique regional cuisines and so, one chef would focus on Cajun cuisine while another would emphasize Texan barbeque “to show the nuances of American cuisine.” (“Gastrodiplomacy”, 2014, 42).
A more localized gastrodiplomatic effort has also taken place as American citizens have initiated their own food-based ventures as a means of improving U.S foreign relations. The Conflict Kitchen is a Pittsburgh-based restaurant and initiative that serves food only from nations that have tensions with the U.S. The restaurant focuses on one conflict country at a time and every six months, the cuisine changes (“Eight Great Gastrodiplomacy Nations”, 2005). Previous themes included: “Koobideh Kitchen (Iranian takeout), Bolan Pazi (Afghan Takeout), and Arepas Kitchen (Venezuelan takeout)” (Chapple-Sokol, 2013). Such a project demonstrates the use of local food to form a platform, albeit a small one, for conflict resolution. Accordingly, the United States’ incentive for undergoing gastrodiplomatic initiatives on both the national and local level supports the political incentive rationale yet does not reinforce the culinary offensive, diffusion effect, or economic incentive theories. Depending on their status and ambitions, each country uses gastrodiplomacy in different ways.
East and Southeast Asian Gastrodiplomatic Concentration:
In light of drawing from four different case studies to define three theories and one rationale regarding this gastrodiplomatic concentration, it is critical to determine which theory best solves this puzzle. All of the nine countries known to have engaged in gastrodiplomatic efforts have done so with economic and political incentives in mind (Wisdom, 2014). While such objectives might not have been the primary motivation for these countries to engage in gastrodiplomacy, they remain an easy incentive to foster support and resources for such culinary initiatives. To be more specific, gastrodiplomacy is historically known to build relations with countries and such campaigns often increase the visibility of a country; thereby, benefiting its tourism economy. Accordingly, the economic theory and political incentive rationale are not unique to East and Southeast Asian countries; therefore, they do not best account for why this concentration exists.
However, I argue that both the culinary offensive theory and the diffusion effect are unique to East and Southeast Asian countries and together, they provide the best explanation for why there is a regional gastrodiplomatic concentration. All four East and Southeast Asian countries, despite the focus on the Taiwanese case study, pursued a culinary offensive in their respective gastrodiplomatic campaigns. As four emerging or traditional middle powers in a world dominated by Western power, each of these countries needed to increase their name recognition through a soft power tactic rather than hard power, as they lacked the necessary resources to do so. As emerging or traditional middle powers, all four countries are affluent, small to medium-sized countries that lack a nuclear arsenal and have no permanents seats on the UN Security Council (Solleh, 2018). Accordingly, gastrodiplomacy gave these countries the perfect offensive to carve out their culinary cuisine, cultural brands, and national identity amidst foreign audiences. Alongside Taiwan’s goal of achieving Taiwanese name-recognition, Malaysia aimed to be the “Halal Hub” of the Muslim world, South Korea wished to spread its “kimchi diplomacy” into the Western world, and Thailand aspired to be “kitchen to the world”.
The diffusion effect complements the culinary offensive theory as it explains the regional gastrodiplomatic concentration within East and Southeast Asia yet also does not conflict with these countries’ desire to expand their cultural, national, and culinary brand. Thailand’s pioneering efforts and success in the field of gastrodiplomacy has inspired other countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia to undertake such culinary initiative; thereby, inciting a gastrodiplomatic diffusion within the East and Southeast Asian region. As middle powers, this diffusion was at least partially inspired by a mutual need to enter a world dominated by Western foods. As proven in this paper, these four Asian countries utilized the most basic element of commonality, food, to craft unique gastrodiplomatic campaigns; thereby, increasing their visibility on the global stage.
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