Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Johanna Mendelson Forman, the Creator of Conflict Cuisine. Conflict Cuisine is one of the sponsors of the Food Tank Summit.
Food Tank (FT): What initiatives have you launched recently, or are planning to launch, that will further your company’s sustainability efforts?
Dr. Johanna Mendelson (JM): Conflict Cuisine is a project that examines the nexus of food and war. It does so through the study of gastrodiplomacy, diaspora chefs, and educational opportunities for students of international relations—but also interested people—to learn about the way food serves as a tool of social integration and most importantly as a part of our diplomatic toolkit to help build peace. We are now using the concept as a way to promote awareness with new adult audiences by helping them to appreciate the contributions of diaspora chefs to our national diet, but we are also working with policymakers to examine the national security dimensions of food security.
FT: What drives you and your company to push for sustainability?
JM: Conflict cuisine is a concept that promotes sustainability in any type of program that addresses food security in a conflict zone. Teaching people about how to best use what they grow and passing along education to the next generation [are] important steps forward in promoting sustainable programming in parts of the globe that need help.
FT: What is the biggest food related issue facing our planet right now? How is your company working to solve that problem?
JM: Food issues are interrelated, so [addressing] one must by definition touch on other problems. From where I sit, food waste, coupled with growing urbanization in the global south, are interrelated problems that must be addressed to ensure human security goals. Bad food governance, lack of ministries to manage agricultural credit and trade, and lack of information to promote value chain integration all play into the problems of supply and urbanization.
FT: Do you have any enlightening stories to share of collaboration between your business and other businesses or organizations that have changed your business practices?
JM: The Conflict Cuisine project has now started collaborating with outreach programs in adult education, such as the Smithsonian Resident Associates program, and with the Charter Schools in Washington, D.C. to help educate people about what chefs do to integrate and preserve their cultural heritage while also earning a living. We hope to use the Conflict Cuisine teaching model to work with community colleges and local universities to celebrate diaspora and promote tolerance and integration of newcomers to our communities, using food as the vehicle for starting the dialogue.
FT: What changes would you like to see from the United States government to support sustainability in the food system?
JM: Citizen education will be a central component to improving sustainability, but this means that there will need to be people in the government who actually oversee that type of programming. The U.S. government should encourage private sector actors to be part of the overall education effort and support solutions through these various efforts.
FT: What was a turning point in your company and why?
JM: I am not a company, but a project. To best respond to this question, I will say that moving from an idea—a course about food and war, conflict cuisines—to a project that is growing and gaining international attention in three years is remarkable. We have been successful in promoting the concept, attracting funders, and gaining media support. But now we need more. This is a movement that includes education of diaspora, not only in the U.S. but globally.
FT: What three things do you want your customers to know about your company?
JM: We see food and recipes as stories that help promote intercultural understanding by using different cuisines to build rapport and dialogue. We also see our project as a way to educate students and faculty about an aspect of conflict that is all too often relegated to the field of humanitarian response rather than part of the examination of the causes of war and instability. The two areas are equally important and need integration.
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