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How culinary diplomacy can enhance bridge building in Europe and protect the culinary traditions of Eastern Partnership states

When we think of diplomacy, our mind often jumps to high-level summits between formally-dressed diplomats and intense negotiations. 

But what we tend to forget is the fact that we are all diplomats in our own ways. In this era of endless interconnectivity, where we interact with different cultures on a daily basis, every single citizen can be a diplomat, sharing culturally meaningful aspects of their society with their peers and exploring and understanding cultural differences. Taking into account the ease of travel across Europe, it is not uncommon to experience various cultures through journeys to all corners of the continent, interacting directly with most aspects of life in a country or region. 

Experiencing a different society is best done through immersing in it during a visit, but there are many ways in which we can bring a tangible piece of its culture closer to those interested in experiencing it. Dance, music, theatre and cinema, visual arts and many more can bring cultural recognition to a different community from ours and serve as enriching exposures to the diversity of humankind. Food, however, is the only one of such examples which involves all five senses. It is a highly personal and accessible way to bring cultures nearer to people who might not yet have a connection with a certain country or ethnic group. The culinary traditions of a country tell us a lot about its past and present, what ingredients and cooking methods were available during its history, what professions and occupations might have been dominant at certain points in time and how a certain culture has interacted over the years with different societies. Furthermore, the way a certain dish is prepared often reflects the characteristics of a recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, sometimes differing significantly from family to family. Thus, experiencing authentic food transcends the cultural dimension towards the ancestral connections that shaped the dish you are enjoying. Besides telling us a lot about the history of a certain culture, food can provide a remarkable insight into the present as well. Enjoying different cuisines by visiting local restaurants that are owned and operated by representatives of various cultures is not only a great way to support local businesses, but also proof of the resilience of minority communities everywhere in Europe and their efforts and dedication to introduce people previously unfamiliar with their culture to the aspects of their background that define them. Thus, culinary diplomacy stands out as a fascinating and highly emotional way to tell a story about culture, history and human connections.

Taking everything into account, we can see how culinary diplomacy can be a great bridge between nations and societies. But we should also look at an example in practice to find ways in which we can bring cultural recognition to the cuisines of the Eastern Partnership states and increase interest in the culinary traditions of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Although coming from a different corner of the world, this example is a veritable success story of international recognition of a previously-unknown cuisine. The Global Thai plan is an initiative launched in 2002 by the Thai government, aiming to boost global recognition of Thai cuisine through investment and accreditation of Thai restaurants by Thai authorities. Since the debut of the Global Thai plan, the number of Thai restaurants worldwide has skyrocketed and the level of familiarity with the culinary traditions of Thailand is significant. 

So how can we turn this success story about Thai cuisine into potential actions that investors, restaurateurs and public policy makers from the Eastern Partnership states can take in order to boost their visibility on the European and global food scene? Through the accreditation of authentic cuisine and traditional practices, both of restaurants and of produce.  

Official recognition by Eastern Partnership states’ governments and by the European Union of traditional restaurants representing the national cuisines of EaP countries can bring a new dimension of prestige and authenticity to such food spots by assuring the clientele that the ingredients, recipes and practices of the business are authentic and that they are receiving a heartfelt representation of the culinary traditions of the country. Besides accreditation, tools such as virtual maps of authentic restaurants can make it easier for people to find and try cuisines they are unfamiliar with. Such a plan can also boost interest in these cuisines, since better visibility can often mean more first contacts with the culture of these countries. We should see restaurants and food spots not only as businesses, but also as culinary embassies, bringing cultures closer to one another and allowing people to explore what connects them to other societies.

Besides the accreditation of restaurants, traditional produce can also be a vector of cultural recognition. An extension of the geographical indications of the European Union (Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indications and Geographical Indications) to the traditional food and drinks of the Eastern Partnership states can not only serve as a marker of quality for consumers and producers, but also as a means to protect traditional production techniques and to promote sustainable practices and rural development. 

These are only small steps that can be taken in order to protect the traditions and practices of culinary culture in the Eastern Partnership states and to promote their heritage in the European Union and abroad, but they can serve as a remarkable beginning to further recognition of these unique cultures and to promote European integration through a tangible and accessible method for all Europeans. Food is never just food, it’s a direct representation of the diverse traditions of societies, and in the case of the Eastern Partnership states, it is a unique way to showcase the mingling of cultures in the ethnically and religiously rich regions of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, both of these areas being melting pots which prove the true diversity of what it means to be European.

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