Johanna Mendelson Forman and Noobtsaa Philip Vang on Conflict Cuisine

Interview by Billy Shore

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

How does food both create conflict and provide a foundation for cultural integration and inclusion? American University professor and Stimson Center Distinguished Fellow Johanna Mendelson Forman and Foodhini founder Noobtsaa Philip Vang join hosts Debbie and Billy Shore to discuss gastrodiplomacy in the US and abroad. “Refugee food… is very popular and growing because this is the way you learn that the people who are villainized and made into statistics are not that – they are human beings,” says Forman, who teaches the wildly popular course in ‘Conflict Cuisine.’ Vang founded Foodhini to provide opportunities for refugees and immigrants to make a living through sharing their culture’s food. “All the different communities of diaspora, it’s all the same: they go to a new place, they don’t have anything, but one of the things they do still have is their food,” he says.

This ‘perfect pairing’ of guests has worked together for years: Forman acts as a business mentor for Vang and Vang serves as advisor on several of Forman’s class projects. “You hit the industry at a time when there was a greater consciousness about refugees and the power that food has, and you’ve done such an incredible job,” Forman tells Vang. Vang is appreciative of her support – both personal and professional. “[Foodhini] is how I see the world should be… creating a place where food and culture is not overlooked,” he believes.

Hear how food can create conflict but also how it can bring communities together on this intriguing episode of Add Passion and Stir.

Resources and Mentions:

Johanna Mendelson Forman

Johanna Mendelson Forman

An Adjunct Professor at American University’s School of International Service. She is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center, where she heads the Food Security Program. Her frontline experience as a policy maker on conflict and stabilization efforts drove her interest in connecting the role of food in conflict, resulting in the creation of Conflict Cuisine®: An Introduction to War and Peace Around the Dinner Table, an interdisciplinary course she teaches at the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC. As an Adjunct Professor leading this innovative curriculum, Johanna challenges her students to explore new ways of looking at diplomacy, conflict resolution, and civic engagement to understand how food, as a form of Soft Power, can drive these issues in the 21st Century. In establishing this link between food and conflict, Johanna developed a new interdisciplinary platform examining why food is central to survival and resilience in conflict zones. Her groundbreaking work on food in conflict zones is derived from her distinguished career as a practitioner and policymaker in the United States government, the United Nations and the World Bank. Her experiences working as an expert on conflict and stabilization efforts from Haiti to Rwanda led her to this effort to connect food with conflict. She also is highly regarded as a regional expert on Latin America and the Caribbean, with extensive field experience in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Central America, Colombia and Brazil. Through her wide-ranging career in international affairs, she has built a reputation for addressing longstanding issues with new perspectives and innovative ideas. By recognizing the nexus between food, war, and civic engagement, she has become one of the leading voices in the emerging movement of Social Gastronomy.
Noobtsaa Philip Vang

Noobtsaa Philip Vang

An MBA graduate of the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, with an emphasis in social entrepreneurship. Prior to business school, Noobtsaa earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota and led capital projects for 3M Company. Growing up as a Hmong American, he grew to appreciate his culture’s cuisine, while at the same time seeing the barriers to sustainable income generation for his community as immigrants. Noobtsaa recognized that many immigrant communities face this challenge and founded Foodhini in the summer of 2015.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

The Stimson Center

A nonpartisan policy research center working to protect people, preserve the planet, and promote security & prosperity. Stimson’s award-winning research serves as a roadmap to address borderless threats through concerted action. Our formula is simple: we gather the brightest people to think beyond soundbites, create solutions, and make those solutions a reality. We follow the credo of one of history’s leading statesmen, Henry L. Stimson, in taking “pragmatic steps toward ideal objectives.

Foodhini

Founded on the idea that food can be used to create new opportunities for our immigrant and refugee communities and also satisfy the appetites of hungry foodies in search of authentic multicultural meals. Many immigrant & refugee communities face financial, educational, and cultural barriers that can limit their access to sustainable living wage jobs. By providing a platform for communities of diaspora to use their existing culinary skills to prepare and sell their delicious home-style cultural cuisines, Foodhini empowers these communities to bypass those barriers and create new opportunities. These individuals possess talents that have been developed for years in their homes, and now we are bringing their talents and dishes directly to you. We believe their talents deserve real compensation and our goal is to provide livable wages to all of our chefs. More than that, we strive to create a community for our team members to find economic mobility, and also build new relationships with each other and beyond.

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