One of the features of the current US hegemony is its influence on culture across the world through Hollywood and music. Yet, movies and music are just one aspect of culture. In another more important aspect—food—the US fares less well, according to new research.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Joel Waldfogel highlights the importance of cuisine in cultural trade and suggests countries such as Japan, Italy, China and India benefit when their cuisine is sold abroad.

In the study, Waldfogel explores the implicit trade involved in cross-border culinary consumption using market research data from Euromonitor for food expenditure and TripAdvisor for restaurant cuisines of 52 countries.

He finds that Italy and Japan were the largest net exporters of cuisines (excluding fast food) in 2017. Net exporters of cuisines simply refers to how much a country’s cuisine is consumed outside its borders.

For India, he finds that Indian cuisine is the fifth most popular cuisine in the world (behind Italy, Japan, China and the US). But India also hosts several restaurants serving foreign cuisine, making it a net importer of cuisine with a “cuisine deficit" of around $4 billion in 2017.

The largest cuisine trade deficit, though, belongs to the US. With net imports of $133 billion of cuisine in 2017, this deficit dwarfs US’s trade surpluses in other cultural products such as movies and music and questions the general notion of US hegemony in cultural trade and influence.

Waldfogel argues that the implicit trade involved in cuisine trade and the interest in global cuisines are often overlooked in measurements of cultural trade. The inclusion of cuisines and recipes as a cultural product can change perceptions of cultural influence, he suggests.

Also read: Dining Out as Cultural Trade

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