The term Food for Peace was first coined by John F. Kennedy, president of the United States in 1961, when he stated that, “Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom”. He was translating a law introduced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower known as the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act. According to Eisenhower, the purpose of the legislation was to "lay the basis for a permanent expansion of US exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to the America peoples and peoples of other lands."
However, the focus of this article is to draw us to idea that food can play a vital role as an instrument for peace. This truth is deeply entrenched in the African traditional values of sharing and peace building. Tappel, Ingeborg Heggheim (2016) confirms this truth in their recollection on the subject, where they assert that, “Food is universal and sharing meals makes people come together. In negotiations and diplomacy at different levels, eating together has always been a part in the processes of promoting peace”.
In ongoing search for peaceful co-existence of diverse cultures and ethnic groups in the Rwenzori Region of Uganda, KRC Uganda thought to introduce the Food for Peace concept in peace building and conflict prevention efforts. The approach has been tested and proven to work, bringing together different ethnic groups, government institutions and CSOs in Kasese to mend strained relationships and talk peaceful co-existence over historical contestations over land resources and service delivery.
Food can be used in many ways to bring about peace amongst conflicting parties.
- In one way, sharing food creates a conducive environment or platform to discuss issues in a brotherly or sisterly manner. The Conflict Café in London uses the power of food to break down barriers and get people talking. Conflict Cafe serves food from conflicted areas in the world and initiates a new conversation about said places among those who come to feast together. According to Raisa Wells (2021), conflict theory suggests that bringing parties together under the right conditions (contact theory), building trust, and improving communication addresses perceived relationship breakdowns.
- In other instances, food is used as a ritual to foment reconciliation. It involves the giving of food or livestock gifts or reparations in exchange of forgiveness and acceptance. The rituals can symbolically indicate termination of a conflict or dropping of hostilities. Such rituals can include toasts, shared food and beverages, banquets, and feasts.
The Gogo of Tanzania reconcile people after a bitter quarrel, as when a father curses and disowns his son, by first slaughtering a goat and removing its liver. Each of the party’s bites on the goat’s liver; the priest then cuts it in two. When each has eaten his half of the meat, peace is officially restored.
- In some communities, food accustomed to conflicting groups of people is used to stereotype each other to denote either a superior or inferior culture over the other. Some pastoral communities in Uganda despise the eating of fish and chicken and the people who eat those particular foods. On the other hand, some communities despise the consumption of certain traditional dairy recipes. So, deliberate cultural exchanges on food could help alleviate such cultural deficiencies to bring about harmonious living.
Since 2019, KRC Uganda in partnership with Minority Rights Group International and network partners from Kenya, Cameroon and Uganda have been collaborating on a “Networks for Peace Program” aimed at preventing and resolving conflicts through early warning mechanisms in Africa.
The program works to bring about peaceful co-existence and prevent conflicts amongst the two main livelihoods of crop farming and cattle herding. The program helps to identity conflicts, build community capacities, address issues of marginalisation and build trust between communities. In reconciling communities, the program promotes what unites communities and condemns what would rather divide them.
Bill Ganzel, 2007. Food for Peace. Viewed on 26/03/2022. https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/money_08.html
World Food Program USA, 2022. American Hunger Heroes: John F. Kennedy. Viewed on 26/03/2022. https://www.wfpusa.org/articles/historys-hunger-heroes-jfk/
University of Notre Dame, 2022. What is Strategic Peacebuilding? Accessed on 26/03/2022. https://kroc.nd.edu/about-us/what-is-peace-studies/what-is-strategic-peacebuilding/