Cooking Becomes Conduit for Cultural Discourse

"For us, one of the things that is so powerful about this experience is learning about the immigrant experience today and learning about it directly from someone who has grown up in that culture," she said. "We're creating this shadow United Nations of ordinary but exceptional people who are sharing their culture."

But she is not alone in her efforts.

In Washington, D.C., college students who have elected to take a new course on "gastrodiplomacy" at American University are also exploring other cultures through cuisine. Through in-class lectures and field trips to local ethnic restaurants, the undergraduates are making the connection between food and international relations, according to instructor Johanna Mendelson Forman.

And across the country, a similar opportunity exists for American farmers to learn from international stewards via the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA).

The combination of shared time, experiences and exposure to new foods is unlike any other exchange, said Gross. Students appear to agree.

"It's one of the most effective ways of 'artificially' initiating dialogue between cultures through scheduled activities that I've ever seen," said J.P. Allen, who recently spent a Sunday at Jahan's home taking a Bengali class with his girlfriend and other strangers. "Having a whole afternoon of cooking requires collaboration and conversation to get things done and pass the time. I had a great time talking to Afsari about her interests and life story."

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