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Food is one of the world’s oldest forms of exchange and diplomacy—it has been used a medium to communicate ideas, values, identities and attitudes for centuries. A country’s national cuisine is often an object of cultural heritage.
Recently, food has been recognized as an official soft power and a tool that presents a means of communication in diplomacy and of strengthening national identity. Food diplomacy has become an international relations discipline.
The way food is used in a nation’s branding defines the unique, multidimensional blend of elements that provide culturally grounded differentiation and relevance. Today, many countries are making serious efforts to internationally promote their culinary traditions and national cuisines.
Lebanon in particular is a incredibly multicultural country with many ethnic groups that has been ruled by different foreign powers over the years, which has influenced Lebanese cuisine. However, it has managed to preserve its nutritional values, with many ingredients sourced traditionally and directly from their various sources.
The Lebanese Diaspora throughout the world has played a huge role in promoting the country’s national cuisine. And the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants (LMFAE) increasingly sees the diaspora as a critical resource to foster Lebanon’s relationship on meaningful and sustainable grounds.
In May 2018, the LMFAE “Tasty Lebanon” initiative was launched at the fifth annual Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference in Beirut. This initiative aims to promote Lebanese products throughout international markets and to boost economic investment and tourism in Lebanon.
In January 2019, the Lebanese embassy in France hosted a meeting on the diplomacy of culinary arts to promote the marketing of made-in-Lebanon agricultural and rural foods. Along the same lines, the Ministry of Agriculture organized Lebanese grape days in countries such as France, Germany and the US to provide a platform for local producers to network with potential international distributors.
A full campaign strategy now could continue branding Lebanese food by defining a course and scope of action, resources to be tapped and the expected impacts. This could include several elements.
Creating a slogan and logo is essential to every successful campaign. A key message should be tailored to target people with a focus on diversity, healthiness, naturalness and environmentalism, mysticism and nationalism. To be most effective it should clearly highlight the rich variety and diverse origins of Lebanese cuisine that is inseparable from its cultural heritage.
Strategy campaigns should also be accompanied with concrete actions. For cuisine this could include establishing restaurant chains, developing franchises and promoting export in food-related products and services. It could also include participating in international events and exhibitions. Food safety messaging backed up with regulation should also not be neglected.
As Lebanon seeks to grow on a global stage, it must use all its unique charm to increase people’s awareness of and connection to the country. Its cuisine is its key to communication.
Youssef El Rayess is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon.