In each installment of “Breaking Bread,” Phylisa Wisdom will discuss gastrodiplomacy–using the history of different foods, and eating and cooking those foods, to foster understanding and cooperation between cultures. Think of it as breaking bread to break down barriers. We’ll explore who gastrodiplomats are and what they’re doing–or cooking–to engage in dialogue with, or about, other cultures and countries. The column will feature interviews with sassy changemakers, recipes from chefs involved in gastrodimplocatic efforts, and analysis of effective efforts (and sometimes wretched failures) from all over the world. We’re unapologetically in favor of talking politics at the dinner table.
Theoretically, gastrodiplomacy – using the eating, preparation and study of food to improve cultural understanding and diplomacy – can be a useful tool for reflection and learning. However, eating and preparing food from another culture is not inherently gastrodiplomatic. In fact, a feeling of unfettered access to the food of another community can further cultural divides or reinforce racist and colonial attitudes towards marginalized communities. Without a critical lens, the act of eating and serving cuisine from a culture other than one's own can tend towards appropriation rather than appreciation. So how do we, as analytical and progressive food lovers, avoid co-opting the food and traditions of others? How do we use food to encourage critical international dialogue, rather than to stifle it? Personally, I’ve been grappling with these questions for awhile, particularly with regard to my enjoyment of my favorite cuisine: Mexican food.