NAFSA Conference: A Gastrodiplomacy Experience, 5/29/19

NAFSA is the largest association of professionals advancing study abroad and international education. The emphasis tends to be through exchange, and the conference’s vendor area consists primarily of organizations that facilitate study abroad for colleges. This year’s conference was in Washington, DC, and though I didn’t attend the entire conference, I did go to the luncheon on May 29, 2019 sponsored by the Peace, Justice, and Citizen Diplomacy Special Interest Group.

Forman and Brimmer

The keynote speaker was Johanna Mendelson Forman, who teaches at American University and is an expert on looking at the intersection of food and peace. Amy Anderson from the University of Dayton opened the event talking about the importance of food in reducing conflict and violence. She was followed by Maria Reynoso from Columbia University who talked about the need for making food a tool for peace. Esther Brimmer, the executive director of NAFSA, introduced Forman.

Forman talked about the way that food supports community action, community development, and most importantly is the basis of memories for immigrants. In that way, food is often a form of peacebuilding and reconciliation. The slow food movement argues that food is needed to create harmony in the world. Food is a medium for social interaction, resistance, and change. Today watching food programs is also popular as ESPN. People are connected through food, and food can be powerful.


Forman shared that recently Harvard Divinity School found that food is the most frequent means of people coming together: dining together. Recent efforts such as “100 Days, 100 Dinners” were attempts to find reconciliation through dining together. Dining is often viewed as a safe space.

Conflict cuisines constitute the range of ethnic foods and restaurants that can arise after mass refugee movement (because of war). DC has been a major destination for conflict cuisines, with new restaurants being established by diaspora groups. Food has also worked to create better relations and improve diplomatic outcomes. An example is the Chinese restaurants in the U.S. before Nixon’s trip to China, which helped raised Americans’ acceptance of the trip.

Social gastronomy is an effort to use food for good. A number of chefs have lent their support efforts to feed and train as food works those who are marginalized including inmates.

The Sustainable Development Goals are at their core about food. Dealing with the impact of climate change is one example.

Food advancing peace

Finally, Forman believes that the kitchen is the new venue for foreign policy.


Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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