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Trump-Kim 2018 Singapore Summit and culinary diplomacy: the role of food and symbols in international relations

Abstract

Summit lunches celebrate commensality, the practice of eating together, which provides a convivial setting for leaders to sit together, negotiate agreements, and smooth out differences. A diplomatic event can be splendid and ceremonial, or a private working lunch, with symbols embedded that can have impact on global issues. The dishes represent national values and attend to personal favorites, recognizing the identity and relationship of those present. As instruments in the art of diplomacy, meals give participants the opportunity to identify and understand the messages such occasions create. Understanding the social semiotics of culinary diplomacy allows researchers to analyze summit lunches and other diplomatically significant events. Drawing on culinary diplomacy and social semiotics, this article explores the semiotics associated with culinary diplomacy by analyzing the working lunch of the Trump-Kim 2018 Summit between American President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un held in Singapore. In a qualitative analysis of the media reporting of this summit, this study proposes that the strategic setting made by the protocol and food of the working lunch conveys messages of status and symbolism that impact foreign diplomacy. Insight gained from this study highlights how a dining table can trump the conference table in initiating a conversation, especially among enemies.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Singapore promoted its own food as well at the Trump-Kim Summit. To cater to more than 3,000 local and international journalists, Singapore created a venue and provided catering of 45 dishes across 15 cuisines. Singaporean dishes such as laksa (a spicy noodle soup) and chicken rice (Hainanese chicken rice, considered Singapore’s national dish) were offered as well as themed tacos and burgers. El Trumpo Taco mimics one of President Trump’s favorite foods with a burger patty in a taco; The Rocket Man Taco includes Korean fried chicken and spicy sauce (Filloon 2018).

  2. Past participles are typically used in menus to indicate the preparation done to an ingredient. In this case, steam* broccoli—> steamed broccoli. Another error is Haagendazs vanilla iced cream – > Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. The menus available for the press may have been drafts, as the summit was hastily planned due to the short notice.

  3. The French language and cuisine proliferate in the menu, particularly in the dessert course (e.g., ganache, coulis, and Tropezienne).

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Correspondence to Keri Matwick.

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Matwick, K., Matwick, K. Trump-Kim 2018 Singapore Summit and culinary diplomacy: the role of food and symbols in international relations. Place Brand Public Dipl 18, 65–76 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41254-020-00188-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41254-020-00188-x

Keywords

  • Public diplomacy
  • Social semiotics
  • Donald trump
  • Kim jong-un
  • Gastrodiplomacy
  • Culinary diplomacy
  • Media discourse
  • Summit
  • Singapore