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Gastro-diplomacy: Winning hearts, minds, and stomachs.
More countries are elbowing their way to a place at the American table. It’s hard for them to resist the draw of a big country with deep pockets: last year we spent more than $60 billion on specialty foods— $300 million on hummus alone.
The U.S. is not an easy market to break into. Aspiring global brands can’t just slap English language labels on their products. If they make it past the FDA, there is a byzantine network of interstate commerce regulatory agencies. Once they get it in the country, they go up against a juggernaut of large-scale, multi-national producers that are cozy with the nationwide chains of markets and superstores.
They don’t have to like us to feed us.
A host of far-flung nations, many with histories of hostility toward the U.S., and all with largely unfamiliar culinary traditions, have been hawking their wares through cultural delegations in our embassies, and elaborate pavilions at trade events.
The Balkan Peninsula, already responsible for the Balkan burger phenomenon that has captivated New York, was well represented at last month’s fancy foods show, selling cakes from Bosnia, feta cheese from Serbia, and ajvar, a spicy eggplant and pepper dip from Kosavar. Over at the Palestinian Territories’ pavilion, there were dates from Jordan, chocolates from Jericho, and olive oil from Palestinian farmers, who are already shipping millions of gallons into the U.S.
Sub-Saharan Africa is on a roll, following up the success of its roobios tea with the peppadew; a sweet pepper flavoring that Heinz will be adding to its Tacquitos brand of chips. Russia might embargo goods from Georgia, but we’re buying up their hazelnuts, jams, wine, and the wildly popular Borjomi mineral water.
Detente for dinner.
Have a hankering for Iraqi-style kabobs or North Korean malgeunguk soup? Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen serves dishes exclusively from countries that the United States is in conflict with. Every four months the take-out restaurant refocuses on a different cuisine. The menu. decor, and the storefront’s facade all get a make-over. In its current iteration, Conflict Kitchen is currently operating as Kubideh Ktchen. Up next: Afghanistan.
Thailand is the model for many of the would-be gastro-diplomats. Its many restaurants around the world have served as cultural outposts, raising Thailand’s profile, attracting foreign investment and migrant workers, and stimulating interest in travel to Thailand. Read about Thailand success and the branding strategies of other emerging nations at Nation-Branding.com.
Read how the ‘Starbucks’ of Taiwan is looking to take on the American coffee market.
Bite by bite, dinner by dinner, let’s eat our way to world peace.