Food as a Tool of Diplomacy & as a Weapon of War

As part of the Policy in Practice Series presented by the Public Policy program, Delaware Valley University was proud to host Dr. Maria Velez de Berliner and her presentation on Food as a Tool of Diplomacy and as a Weapon of War this past Thursday. Dr. Velez de Berliner is president of the Latin Intelligence Corporation and a professor of political violence and terrorism at George Washington University. She is a leading analyst and author of intelligence products and reports and has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She has a master’s in public and international affairs, with a specialization in international security and intelligence, from the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Maria Velez de Berliner

The presentation on Food as a Tool of Diplomacy and as a Weapon of War examined major global issues impacting food production and availability, including how food can be used to solve conflict among nations and how food can be more powerful than weapons when used to manipulate a population by depriving the people of food.

When discussing food as a tool of diplomacy and the role food plays in peace negotiations and conflict resolution such as Somalia and South Africa, Dr. Velez de Berlin pointed out that even when two countries are at odds with one another, it is important for the two groups to take a break from their negotiations and sit down and enjoy a meal together. In line with proper table etiquette, politics are often avoided during such occasions, further allowing the groups to communicate and connect in other ways. Often times, these groups may be able to see each other in a new light. The use of food in this context can be defined as gastrodiplomacy, ultimately the intersection of gastronomy (the study of food) and policy. From this perspective, food can be used as a means to relay cultural values and history.

There are a few organizations who have realized the power of food to bring people together:

  • In Pittsburgh, the Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, publications, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus region. 
  • In Detroit, the Peace Meal Kitchen is a low-profit organization dedicated to educating diners on regions that are either misrepresented by the U.S. media or are struggling with political conflict. Their hope is to not only humanize other cultures that are not easily accessible but also create awareness of the rich diversity that exists within the metro-Detroit area. During your dining experience, you will learn about the geography, culture, and people of the country of focus. rotates identities in relation to current geopolitical events.
  • The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is an international multimedia initiative born from a simple premise: It is harder to ignore, vilify or harm those we have broken bread with. The Virtual Dinner Guest Project facilitates interpersonal connections through our dinner table discussions via Skype.

Ultimately, even if food is available, it may not be accessible. As our population continues to skyrocket, issues of food availability are becoming more prominent. Dr. Velez de Berliner believes that technology is a key factor in addressing sustainability issues of the future. She suggested three applications of technology that could aid in food availability and accessibility:

  1. Hydroponic systems: a plant production system that operates by circulating water. As opposed to a single use of water in the production fields, the circulation of water in hydroponic systems allows for the reuse of water many times. Hydroponics can help reduce the amount of water being used in agriculture which will ultimately allow that water to replenish aquifers and to be used elsewhere.
  2. Genome editing: the genetic manipulation of crops has allowed scientists to breed plants for specific traits that result in more resilient crop varieties. Desirable traits include pest resistance and better water utilization.
  3. Drones: although this isn’t new technology, the idea of using drones in agriculture is a concept that has recently gained interest. Drones can be used to in soil and field analysis. They produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis, useful in planning seed planting patterns. After planting, drone-driven soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management (MIT Technology Review).

As stated by in MIT technology review, agricultural producers must embrace revolutionary strategies for producing food, increasing productivity, and making sustainability a priority (MIT Technology Review).‌

As the worldwide population continues to grow, estimating 9 billion by 2050, the key question becomes this: how we are going to live on a planet with built-in limitations? Furthermore, as food availability and accessibility become more of an issue, how will food be used to address issues of conflict and violence that we are all too familiar with today? We are already seeing incidents where food accessibility is being used by those in power to manipulate large populations of people. These incidents are issues on their own without factoring in the population growth we can anticipate in the future. Also, as the population of our plant increases, arable land available for food production decreases. How can we expect to feed more people when we are confronted with increasingly limited resources? How is it that the US, among the wealthiest countries in the world, is experiencing 48 million who are nutrient deficient? Food availability and accessibility is a sustainability issue that will only be exacerbated unless we take the necessary measures to find solutions.

Mazur, Michal. “Six Ways Drones Are Revolutionizing Agriculture.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 20 July 2016,

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