As RocketNews24 readers, you are probably a bit more savvy than most about what Japanese food is, but for many, the concept doesn’t extend far beyond sushi. Despite its recent elevation to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status and its potential for international popularity, washoku still lacks global recognition and understanding.
That’s about to change, however, if newly launched project Peace Kitchen has their way, and we might all be better off for it.
Peace Kitchen is a collaboration between the founders of nutritional NGO Table for Two, Tokyo project design firm umari, and “creative boutique” GLIDER. Their goal is to raise the profile of Japanese food and food culture on the global stage through the creation of powerful culinary experiences.
“There’s only so much you can communicate in words, which is why we want to emphasize the shared experience around food,” says director Justin Potts. “Much in the way Slow Food has spread across the globe, not because Italian food—the products themselves—were focused on, but because there was a core concept grounded in how people ought to engage with food, and that concept, while born in Italy, contained something universal.”
For Peace Kitchen, the core concept at the heart of washoku is community. Sharing a meal is always a bonding experience, but in addition Japanese traditions like mochi pounding and pouring sake for others tie the preparation and consumption of food to cooperation and communication.
And the beautiful thing about many of those traditions is that while they require communication, it can just as easily be nonverbal, making them the perfect vehicle to create a sense of community even when there are language barriers.
Part of the Peace Kitchen project will be holding introductory events overseas. In the same way that listening to CD can’t compare to the experience of seeing a band live, says Potts, they are hoping the real-life experience of Japanese food culture will create more washoku fans.
And also like a live concert, Peace Kitchen is looking for ways to use art and technology to make the experiences even more interactive. At a recent launch event, for example, they demonstrated a set of traditional Japanese lanterns equipped with sound and movement sensors that respond to how lively the room is by flashing and changing color.
There are events planned in Italy, Kenya and Uganda in the coming months, with more to follow across the globe.
While education is their mission, it might be more apt to say that Peace Kitchen is looking for collaborators rather than students. They aren’t interested in a top-down approach that imparts the “correct” version of washoku but rather finding ways that Japanese ingredients and culture can be adapted and fused with local food culture.
The project is working with Keisuke Matsushima and other star chefs around the world to develop international recipes that reflect the essence of washoku. According to Matsushima, these Peace Recipes should “transcend borders, be crafted from ingredients that respect locality and the land from which they’re grown, conjure up feelings of gratitude and a desire to communicate, contribute to a celebration of the joy of creating, dining and living, and be designed with global food issues in mind.”
The name Peace Kitchen comes from the Japanese for washoku (和食). By one reading, those characters mean “Japanese” and “food”, but by another, it could be “peace food.” The project hopes to promote both through their activities.
Of course, spreading one regional cuisine can hardly be expected to make such a broad impact on the world, but spreading a philosophy of connectedness—with other people and with the land that produces your food—just might. So perhaps they are cooking up some peace in that kitchen.
Images used with express permission of Peace Kitchen