What on earth is a food ambassador?
The power of using food as a tool to break down social and cultural barriers
“You bring people together with food. You connect them and tie the fabric of society together through food.” — Kimbal Musk
What is food? According to the dictionary definition, it is ‘any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.’ At the base of it, it is what we need in order to survive and grow. It is functional.
Interestingly, humans are the only mammals who cook their food. Biological anthropologist, Richard Wrangham, wrote in his book ‘Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human’, that ‘cooking — because it made more calories available from existing foods and reduced the caloric cost of digestion — was the breakthrough technological innovation that allowed humans to support big brains.’ Our ability to use raw materials and cook with them, thus separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Food though, has much more significance beyond biology and functionality.
Food is cultural and social, interwoven with memories, experiences and emotions. And it has a subtle power in bringing people together, one I believe, we should be leveraging more.
At a brief glance, history helps to paint a picture of the importance of food in shaping societies and bringing people closer together. According to National Geographic:
The sharing of food has always been part of the human story. From Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv comes evidence of ancient meals prepared at a 300,000-year-old hearth, the oldest ever found, where diners gathered to eat together. Retrieved from the ashes of Vesuvius: a circular loaf of bread with scoring marks, baked to be divided. “To break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter.
The symbolism of food roots itself in people, community and forging relationships, dating all the way back to 300,000 years ago. It is both in biology and emotion, take for example mothers feeding their infants, that it is used to show affection to loved ones, to show hospitality to strangers, or to adhere to or express religious beliefs to this day. It is a medium of communication, and where communication fails, food prevails. If there is one language that we all speak, it is the language of eating.
The power of food, thus can’t be overstated. It forms a fundamental part of every human’s daily lives, experiences, and needs, that the possibilities of using it as a tool for positive impact are endless, be it solving problems around the lack of food, to health problems that come in the excess of it.
For me however, the domain of food that catches my attention the most is how it can be used to tie the fabric of society together, as Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal, so eloquently put it. I do and have for quite a long time believed that food is an important tool in bringing communities and people closer to one another. It can unite those from different walks of life, create happier and more proximate societies, and has even been instrumental in strengthening relationships between states. This is a concept known as culinary diplomacy.
According to Sam Chapple-Sokol, an early adopter of the idea, ‘culinary diplomacy invokes the subconscious aspects of sharing food with others, to strong effect. A diplomat or head of state may want to impress a guest with a wide variety of local delicacies; or they may want to show respect by serving the best food from the guest’s home country.’ He also believes that culinary diplomacy can be invoked in situations of conflict and used as a powerful tool. The use of food, he found, improved the livelihoods of displaced people in South Sudan during turbulent times, by facilitating a ‘nascent sense of a shared Sudanese identity and nationalism.’
At a macro level, food is clearly quite powerful.
At a micro, grassroots level, I believe there is even more opportunity and scope to create lasting impact.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
It is my belief that many of us have the ability to become food ambassadors in order to instill positive changes in our local communities. What is a food ambassador you might ask?
A food ambassador is someone who represents, promotes and acts on the belief that food breaks down social and cultural barriers, with a mission to bring about positive social change by bringing people together. This can range from organizing a dinner to better integrate refugees with locals, to organizing a food drive or setting up a soup kitchen. The power of human connection cannot be understated — it is both a form of social change, and a tool to create it.
According to Huffpost, across the world, many grassroots movements that use food as a vehicle ‘are using the unique power food has to bring people together, from newly arrived refugees to older or bereaved people, and from people looking for love, to global travellers.’ Take for example Mazi Mas, (meaning ‘with us’ in Greek), an award-winning social enterprise that provides training and employment to help refugee women build careers in the food industry.
It is thus my hope that food ambassadorship can become a new concept of social innovation, as a means to work towards community development in order to strengthen civil society. And I believe we can all get involved in this.
The time has come for us to get up, broaden our dining tables, and search for more meaningful ways to use food to make a difference in our local communities.
What impact can you bring to the table?
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Potluck Club is a digital platform for users to host or join community-driven food events. Our mission is to break down social and cultural barriers through food.
Interested in joining our food movement?
Visit us at www.thepotluckclub.org or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org