Cuisine as nation-brand in post-colonial context
This paper explores the causes, consequences, possibilities, and problems of Peru’s 21st century “gastronomic boom.” During the past decade, various ministries of the Peruvian government, including the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, have promoted Peruvian cuisine and foodways to domestic and foreign publics as products of the country’s racial, ethnic, and environmental diversity. These efforts constitute what public diplomacy scholars have come to call “gastrodiplomacy,” or the use of cuisine and foodways to create, maintain, or enhance a country’s “nation-brand” both at home and abroad.
I consider how gastrodiplomacy’s rhetorical embrace of diversity and multiculturalism functions in this particular postcolonial context, and argue that such framing serves to erase historic and contemporary colonial and neocolonial violences against indigenous and people of color communities. Significantly, male chefs of European descent are heralded as the ambassadors of the current gastronomic boom; the cuisines they “elevate” draw on the techniques and ingredients of historically marginalized people and places, but they gain value and credibility in the hands of chefs trained in European culinary traditions.
I also trace resistance narratives, which aim to re-center Afro-Peruvian and indigenous foodways not as narrative props but as legitimate claims to decoloniality and food sovereignty. In this way, I highlight tensions between the hegemonic narrative of multicultural foodways (framed as a product of mestizaje), and the lived experiences of minoritized communities; ultimately, I show that gastrodiplomacy practice in Peru may in fact exacerbate colonial-era relations to power while also opening up spaces for resistance and counter-narratives.
This paper is the product of a four-month research and teaching fellowship in Lima between March and July, 2019, and is based on ethnographic research with the Peruvian government, the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy, and The Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru.