Gastro-diplomacy and Nepal’s foreign policy

Sangita Bhandari


In globalised world of food politics zone, food is the valuable diplomatic tool. The culinary treasure and pleasure that a nation holds is the way to expand the horizon of culinary diplomacy and gastro brand reputation. Culinary diplomacy is a growing field and governments of different nations in world stage have different strategies to promote culture and national cuisine through delicious diplomacy or edible propaganda.

New generation is witnessing a food revolution with innovative technologies that play transformational role as proxy for understanding the dynamics of international relations. Gastro-diplomacy is expanding with the mobility of international travellers in new world order and coupled with the growing importance of diaspora where food is part of local culture. Mixed with culture and ethnicity, food is a powerful ingredient in human and foreign relations that act as “staple” of global diplomacy. It is how individuals and societies of global community relate to one another. The “food bite” in the globe has gained strength and solidification with national gastronomy or labelling as a cultural heritage in UNESCO or recognition through tourist offers.

Nepal, with her diverse community, can gain benefits from gastro-diplomacy and influence foreigners, thus expanding the horizon of international relations. Foreign policy of Nepal gets more refined with proper adoption of culinary diplomacy, branding nation’s image and identity in the international arena.

National image branding

There is a high chance to grab the attention from international community with proper amalgamation of culinary heritage and best cuisine. Nepal can also leverage food as part of national brand to promote tourism and agricultural products of nation. Stronger national branding can lead to increased money, power and influence through culinary profile and its recognition.

Nation branding is the application of public relations and corporate branding techniques to nations in hopes of facilitating trade, luring foreign investment, and securing geopolitical influence (Wisdom, 2015). Peru, after the dangerous conflict in 1980s and 1990s, stands as number one food tourism destination in the world with its indigenous ingredients. Despite her sluggish economy, Greece is marketing herself as a gastro destiny.

Thailand is another country that brands the place with its food.  A multi-year campaign and Global Thai programme is funded by the government to increase Thai restaurants and Thai food abroad. Westerners appreciate exotic Thai cuisine as part of food experience. South Korea also uses its national dishes to promote agricultural exports. The recognition on global stage can be attained by highlighting the nation’s marketing plan in food too.

Food as national security

Food has entered the space of security. Food insecurity exacerbates other political, economic, and social drivers of conflict. Power can be determined by land and resources of a state. Conflict can also result in shortage of food in nation. Food remains a prominent weapon of war which can be witnessed during conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen. With food security on the national security agenda, international peace building interventions often include delivering food assistance. Assistance and aid can be a tool of oppression and disrupt food market of nation. If food security programs are implemented in the right order, it can consequentially build social resistance to violence. Nepal needs to develop food production to sustain national population for emergency condition and country’s national security.

Soft power utility with food

International Relations specialist Joseph Nye has coined the word soft power that incorporates both culinary diplomacy and gastro-diplomacy with key feature of persuasion and attraction. The path to soft power is culture, political values and foreign policies which are non-coercive and intangible cultural heritage. Nations can influence public opinion and gain positive response from international market with national cuisines. Gastro-diplomacy is a new trend that has passed a long journey in short duration. It can be a powerful medium of nonverbal communication for Nepal to connect with the globe and develop a dynamic tactic for public and cultural diplomacy.


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Nexus between food and conflict

The heterogeneous form of social community can be unified with the force of unique diversity of food. Nepal as a nation with more than 123 languages can utilise its diverse food culture for national harmony and to enhance national unique cuisines. With the confrontation of new and old form of conflicts and emerging issues among nations, food diplomacy can be new instrument of conflict resolution. Nepal can also be the bridge between India and China with its unique gastro-diplomacy extending more people-to-people contact and flourishing of tourism sector. As Speaker and Author Eric Maddox stresses, food is the quickest way to remove barriers to conversation. Even though gastro-diplomacy is a new concept, its origin can be traced back to the ancient Romans. They often utilised the strategy of peace with enemies over a good meal.

Nepal’s foreign policymakers also need to reconsider the importance of culinary diplomacy. Proper gastronomy and smart design can be adopted by Government of Nepal in order to facilitate positive outcome.

Nepal has the potential to enhance cultural variety. There are many ways to utilise gastro diplomacy as a soft power instrument of public diplomacy in modern trend of globalisation to showcase national identity and to reshape public diplomacy as the need of new generation. Cohesive social force unites neighbouring nations and ultimately the global village. The aim of public diplomacy has always been ‘winning hearts and minds of foreign publics’ and the road of gastro-diplomacy leads the destiny to win hearts and minds of foreign publics through stomach.

The writer is pursuing Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy at Tribhuvan University.

Published on 28 March 2018