Conflict Cuisine examines the nexus of food and war. Included in this study is the practice of culinary diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy by governments and citizens of countries that have experienced war or conflict. In diplomatic terms, Conflict Cuisine and the use of food to persuade and educate is a form of soft power.
There are two forms of Conflict Cuisine. The first is food in zones of conflict – a phenomenon that encompasses access to food, food security, and the impact fighting in the field has on existing food supply and provisioning of goods to markets. Food is often studied in the context of humanitarian aid and post-conflict development. At present, over 60 percent of all foreign assistance given by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) goes to humanitarian purposes and development in conflict or post-conflict countries. Yet even today we do not fully understand what levels or aspects of food insecurity are most likely to directly contribute to or cause conflict. It is an area where there is little interdisciplinary academic research – especially as it relates to political governance issues that are the basis for many conflicts.
The second form of Conflict Cuisine is the food of diaspora populations that transfer their national foodways to new countries, an extension of their culture. Immigrants use their food culture
as a means of creating a new life in their adopted country – both as a means of remembering their homeland and to earn a living. Immigrants also serve as culinary diplomats. Through their cooking they transfer elements of their own culinary culture to the diversity of our own foodways.
Today we live in a world where the presence of fragile states creates the backdrop for a discussion of food, war, and conflict. Conflict is multidimensional, as is the concept of food security. Even though there has been a dramatic reduction of global poverty over the last 60 years, we are now living in a period with repeated cycles of political and criminal violence. There are still more than 1.5 billion people who in live in conflict-affected, post conflict, or fragile states. And today there are over 60 million refugees who have wandered the globe, the result of ongoing turmoil in many parts of the world.
There is growing research confirming the connection between the changing climate and its impact on food supply that drives many of the conflicts affecting many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Increasingly, water is emerging as an issue, with the potential to be as precious as oil – and an equally contentious commodity.
Conflict Cuisines will remain a feature of the American culinary and diplomatic arenas for decades to come. Food remains one of the strongest links that diaspora have with their native lands – the taste and flavors that remain indelible even when transferred to another country. We have not seen the end of tragic conflicts. But the prospect of more individuals coming to new lands bringing with them a culinary heritage that is novel and untested remains the one silver lining in an otherwise tragic set of events. As immigrants use their food to integrate themselves in their new homes we all become the beneficiaries of this cultural transition.