Our mothers always said that a hot meal makes everyone feel better, and American University professor Johanna Mendelson-Forman is putting the proverb to work on a global scale.

Mendelson-Forman teaches a course in gastrodiplomacy, the first of its kind in a university setting. The Washington, D.C. campus invites both political discussion and global culture.

American University. Photo: Ivywise

The American University campus. (Photo: Ivywise)

The class takes trips to ethnic restaurants around the city, gaining an understanding of how cuisine adds to an ethnicity’s culture. But it’s not just naan that’s at stake.

Mendelson-Forman tells NPR:

[pullquote]”What’s unique is that students themselves would never make the connection that food is a part of international relations…The idea is for students to hear from the cooks, from the owners of these places, [about] how they see their cuisine as a communication tool in their own communities.” [/pullquote]

The course covers the history of war and peace, pre-9/11. Students get an understanding of how cultures have spread across the world, writes NPR.

Understanding the food of a culture can even change your preception about its people.

NPR reports:

In a recent study in Public Diplomacy Magazine, over half of the 140 people surveyed said that eating a country’s cuisine led them to think more positively about that country. And over two-thirds felt that countries in a state of conflict could benefit from gastrodiplomacy programs.

The US is among the nations to promote gastrodiplomacy. In 2012, Hillary Clinton created a Diplomatic Culinary Partnership that sends America’s best culinary minds to cook in countries around the world.

Gastrodiplomacy has become a hot topic in the past few months, even inspiring Global Kitchen founder Leah Selim to give a TED talk on its importance. Global Kitchen sponsors immigrant-lead cooking classes as a cultural exchange.

Interested in gastrodiplomacy, but can’t enroll in the American University course? Scroll down to see some of our favorite initiatives that are built around the idea.

Conflict Kitchen

What is it? This Pittsburgh spot only serves food from countries with which the United States is currently in conflict.
More info: Here.

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Mobile Turkish Coffee Truck

What is it? This food truck is dedicated to preserving the tradition of Turkish coffee by handing it out along the east coast. More impressively, it’s run exclusively by volunteers.
More info: Here.

Photo: MTCT

Photo: MTCT


What is it? If you’re traveling abroad or looking for guests to host, Eat With arranges meals between local hosts and visitors. Taste the local cuisine in the most authentic way possible.
More info: Here.

Photo: Eat With

Photo: Eat With

[via NPR]