My Lucky Tummy introduces refugee communities to their new neighbors via food; it’s gastrodiplomacy at its finest.
Gastrodiplomacy is a fun concept: people + their food + curiosity = instant connection. It is intuitive, and, seemingly, it is uncomplicated. As with everything related to public diplomacy though, there is much beneath the surface that can be easily overlooked: identity questions, cultural congruency conflicts, ethnic tensions, appropriation for tourist dollars, “cutesy” sidetracking of much valued energy and resources, the list goes on. Thankfully, smart people are unpacking the layers needed to understand just how gastrodiplomacy can be properly utilized for mutual gain. Others are embodying the concept without even knowing it exists: Meet Adam Sudmann. He would fall under the “intuitive” category.
Sudmann is the man behind My Lucky Tummy, a pop-up food court in its infancy that looks to refugee and New American communities as its driving force. Every few months, he hires citizens of Syracuse—8% of which are refugees—to cook their favorite meals. He then invites the greater Syracuse community to come sample the dishes for a price that covers the cost of ingredients, the travel to collect those ingredients (the specific corn needed for ash-washed corn soup is not, as it turns out, readily available at your local grocer), the space, and a worthwhile compensation for the chefs’ time, energy and expertise. The community has responded enthusiastically: His third event, held on a cold and snowy February night, attracted more than 400 people, a head-count that is up five-fold from the first in May of 2013.
The menu for the latest food court featured the aforementioned ash-washed corn soup from the Mohawk Nation; a saffron, rose water and pistachio pudding from Iran; a lamb, basmati, carrot, and raisin dish from Afghanistan; bitter gourd and potato pickled salads from Bhutan; groundnut stew with smoked chicken and greens from South Sudan that singed its taste in your mouth for hours. The doors opened at 7 p.m. By 7:10, the line to get in snaked down the block.
My Lucky Tummy is gastrodiplomacy on the citizen-to-citizen level. It creates awareness of your neighbors; it sparks intrigue in different cultures; and it may even bump up sales in the exotic grocers (from an American’s point of view, of course) that are popping up around the city. It has the potential to build relationships among Syracuse’s diverse communities.
It is a stretch to say My Lucky Tummy has an effect on the foreign policy goals of the countries represented at a particular food court, which is the end-game of traditional public diplomacy. But dominos fall in funny ways. Regardless, Sudmann has created a compelling template that is worth exploring for capital city elites and far-flung diplomats alike. Gastrodiplomacy is an effective tool when wielded expertly. Ignore it at your own risk.
Video production credits:
Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Editor: Stephen Salvitti
Cinematographer, Producer, Audio: Zach Stailey
3/20: This post was updated to reflect an incorrect menu in the original post.