Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Is gastro-diplomacy an effective way how to brand your nation?

"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." -- James Beard

Kimchi diplomacy, dim sum diplomacy, samosa diplomacy…What do these terms evoke? Food. This blog will explain how a relatively new concept within cultural diplomacy, so called gastro-diplomacy, is effectively used by governments in number of countries as a tool of nation-branding.

Whether one calls it gastro or food diplomacy, the principle is the same. To use national cuisine as a tool to improve image of a country, influence and attract foreign publics. Despite of the fact that nation cuisines have been spreading all over the world for centuries, as a result of migrations and other social aspects, the official use of gastro diplomacy was used by Thai government in 2002 – 2003. The campaign, known as Global Thai had many implications, not only rapid increase of Thai restaurants worldwide, but as The Economist stated, “it not only introduce delicious spicy Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it could subtly help deepen relations with other countries.”[1] Certainly, food is one way how to catch attention. Public diplomacy as such is not meant to look like propaganda, and therefore gastro-diplomacy seems like an effective way of influencing foreign publics without pressuring any message.

Pic.1: Logo for the Thai festival in Trafalgar Square, London, 2010[2]

Vid.: Watch the Thai festival in Trafalgar Square, London, 2010

“What nation branding concerns is the image and reputation that a nation enjoys in the world. A nation’s image is defined by the people outside the country; their perceptions are influenced by stereotyping, media coverage as well as personal experience”[3]. And therefore, media coverage of gastro-diplomatic campaigns, as well as personal experience in trying out the country’s cuisine, influence the image and reputation of a country abroad. Countries such as North Korea, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and most recently Taiwan have learned from this successful experience of nation-branding. For instance, “the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou has ordered his envoys to start talking the language of food by launching a £20m “gastro-diplomacy” campaign in the UK and elsewhere.”[4]

Pic.2: Steve Chen, in the centre, Taiwan’s economic consul in London[5]

To conclude, gastro-diplomacy is a way how to brand one’s country. Although, it is argued that “the biggest challenge in nation branding is how to communicate a single image or message to different audience in different countries”[6], introducing national cuisine via government campaigns is a friendly approach applicable in every possible country. However, one needs to bear in mind that certain countries had to fight over the origins of some of their food. Successful gastro-diplomacy leads to better understanding of culture and so the country as such, improving of economy because businesses and tourism are boosted, and the most importantly it increases attractiveness of a country. It can be assumed that in the future, gastro-diplomacy will become a common tactics of nation-branding. The aim of public diplomacy has always been ‘winning hearts and minds of foreign publics’. An assumption that nation-branding is a part of public diplomacy leads to a conclusion that gastro-diplomacy is a way how to win hearts and minds of foreign publics via their stomach.

[1] USC Center on Public Diplomacy. (2010). Korean Tacos and Kimchi Diplomacy. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 17 May 2011]

[2] Picture available from: [Accessed: 17 May 2011]

[3] Fan, Y. (2010). Branding the nation: Towards a better understanding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. Vol. 6, 2, p. 97-103

[4] Booth, R. (2010). Taiwan launches ‘gastro-diplomacy’ drive. Guardian. [Online]. August 8. Available from: [Accessed: 17 May 2011]

[5] Picture available from: [Accessed: 17 May 2011]

[6] Fan, Y. Op.cit.

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