Want to support global understanding? Speak food, the universal language.
Thats why Cassie Parsons of Harvest Moon Grille and Grateful Growers Farm is packing her muck boots and a ham and heading to Slovenia this week.
Yes, Slovenia: A nation nearly the size of New Jersey that is surrounded by Croatia, Hungary, Austria and Italy that used to be a part of Yugoslavia and was the first former communist country to join the European Union.
Its also a place that loves ecology, sustainable agriculture and food.
Thats how the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia, found Parsons and a second chef, Lenny Russo of the restaurant Heartland in St. Paul, Minn. They were looking for a couple of chefs who could showcase the diversity of American cuisine, particularly the sustainable kind.
Russo and Parsons and Parsons partner, Natalie Veres will each spend two weeks traveling around Slovenia, cooking and working with chefs. Russo is there now and will overlap with Parsons for a few days so the two can cook a dinner together. Parsons and Veres leave April 11.
Parsons admits she had never heard of Slovenia until December, when she got an email from Christopher Wurst, the public affairs officer for the U.S. embassy in Slovenia.
I thought it was spam, she admitted. She ended up calling Slovenia to find out what was going on.
What was going on is part of several efforts to use food to start global conversations. Before ending her term as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton encouraged using chefs to introduce foreign visitors to America and sending chefs to other countries to introduce us.
Believe it or not, some of the world thinks the United States is the sum of our fast-food exports. In places where Americans dont tend to visit as tourists (and even in the ones where we do), people think our food is fast, cheap and unhealthy.
So the idea behind chef envoys is to show that the U.S. has a lot of regions and food styles and that we like food thats healthful and delicious.
There are several programs to do that, including the American Chef Corps, started last fall by the State Department and the James Beard Foundation to enlist famous chefs like Rick Bayless and Dan Barber.
Parsons and Russo are part of another program that involves an Arts Envoy grant from the State Departments Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau. The embassy applied for the $21,000 grant to bring two chefs to Slovenia for a month.
In these exchanges, as much as its a learning experience for the people theyre going to meet, theyre going to be bringing back a lot of experiences, said Susan Pittman, a State Department spokeswoman. It is a true exchange.
Both Russo and Parsons will be covered by a film company, Felina Films, which will produce an eight-episode series for Slovenian TV called Seasoned By Americans.
Parsons said the producers have already asked her whether she can drive a tractor not a problem, since she and Veres have run their pig farm in Denver since 2004.
Shes also taking her muck boots and a ham she cured, as well as gifts like pottery pigs made by an artist in Lincolnton, hand-carved wooden spoons, and a Carolina T-shirt for Wurst.
Her guide in Slovenia has written a number of books on making sausage, so she plans to learn everything from him that she can.
When she gets back, she hopes to cook a dinner here that recreates a dinner she will cook there, with traditional ingredients.
Pittman was delighted when she heard that.
Thats exactly the sort of thing these exchanges are designed to do.
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