Name-Place-Animal-Thing: Food, Nationalism and Globalisation


Nehmat Kaur in The Wire:

Here’s a fun fact to start you off – the most exclusive culinary group in the world is Club Des Chefs Des Chefs (CCC) and the only way you can be a member is if you are the personal chef for a head of state. The group recently held a press conference in New Delhi, the venue for their annual meeting this year, where founder Gilles Bragard stressed the importance of “culinary diplomacy” – how a good meal can ease tense political negotiations and also how the chefs who make that food act as ambassadors for their countries.

As anyone who’s ever had a good meal knows, making and eating food can be an incredibly emotional experience. So yes, I agree with Bragard about the power of a good meal to set a positive tone, for say, nuclear disarmament talks (ridiculous as that sounds). And he’s right, food and national pride seem to go hand in hand too. In a way, each chef does act as an ambassador for his country by being responsible for representing something as integral and important as a nation’s food to the world at large. It may be stereotypical but we do tend to associate countries with specific dishes – Italy and pizza or pasta, France and croissants or baguettes. The press secretary of the President of India, who was also present at the event, even added that India’s cuisine is a part of its soft power. And the same holds true for each country.

Following this line of thought, Bragard decisively added, “Fusion is confusion.” If the food we eat is so uniquely bound to our national identity, then yes, mixing different kinds of cuisines is bound to cause some kind of an identity crisis.

But how do we know where ‘fusion’ starts? This may sound like a weird question, but I’m asking because we live in an increasingly globalised world and ingredients move across national borders much more easily than we humans do. And the internet makes it easy to find recipes from other places. So the barriers that made it impossible to cook other cuisines are being broken down. For instance, there are Indian grocery stores and Asian supermarkets all across the US and closer home, Amul is making its own gouda cheese. So if fusion is off limits, is all this culinary expansion also off the table?

And that’s just the latest cycle of globalisation.

More here.