Food Diplomacy Round-Up: And the Winning Food Tweet Goes to …


.. hands down, US Embassy Bahrain’s clip of NEA Acting Asst Secretary Yael Lempert huting hunting for a shawarma in Manama; the rest needs to up their game.
We’re still waiting for the next representative overseas  to top then Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar eating durian on camera. In 2018, our diplomats at Embassy Manila did eat the most terrifying food in the world.
What are you waiting for? We have yet to see our top diplomats with boiled sheep’s head, stinky tofu … what’s that? Oh, decomposed shark carcass. Right. All in the name of food diplomacy!
For more ideas, see the digustingfoodmuseum. You’re welcome!


@StateDept to Continue Processing H-2 Visas, Program “Essential to the economy and food security of the United States”


On March 26, the State Department released a statement  regarding its intention to continue processing nonimmigrant, temporary visas under the H-2 visa program “as much as possible” and as “permitted by post resources and local government restrictions” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement notes that the H-2 program “is essential to the economy and food security of the United States.” The H-2 category allows temporary agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) visas for U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign workers to the United States.  In FY2019, the State Department issued 204,801 H-2A visas for temporary workers performing agricultural services.

In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. 

The H-2 program is essential to the economy and food security of the United States and is a national security priority. Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions. Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.  Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility. This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months, and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa.  We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview. 

Consular resources and local government restrictions vary widely, and each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during this worldwide pandemic. We encourage applicants to consult with the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate in order to confirm the level of services currently offered. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

Original statement posted here.


Pompeo Talks Up Saudi “Investment” in Yemen, and USG’s “Additional” $131M Assistance #ExcludingArms


On November 28, the Secretary of State told the world that “Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relive suffering in Yemen.” Pretty soon,  Saudi Arabia’s spokesman would not have a job anymore.

The Guardian reported that in 2017, the Yemen appeal for $2.5bn was only 73% funded, but that the needs have intensified in a country battered since 2015 by a Saudi-led military offensive aimed at repelling Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital. In April this year, during a UN donor conference for people affected by war in Yemen – labelled as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” – has received pledges of more than $2bn, close to half of which is promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key protagonists in the conflict, according to the same report. Click here for the OCHA page for pledges and paid contributions for Yemen.

On October 24, 2017, U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller re-issued a disaster declaration for the ongoing complex emergency in Yemen for FY 2018 due to “continued humanitarian needs resulting from the complex emergency and the impact of the country’s political and economic crises on vulnerable populations.”  USAID’s November 9, 2018 Factsheet on Yemen Disaster Assistance indicates that the United States humanitarian funding for the Yemen response in FY2018 is $566,273,269 (includes funding through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP), and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM)).  Secretary Pompeo’s tweet on November 28 says that the United States is providing an “additional” $131 million in food assistance to Yemen.

According to the CRS, since March 2015, the U.S.-trained Saudi military has used U.S.-origin weaponry, U.S. logistical assistance, and shared intelligence in support of military operations in Yemen. Excerpt:

In May 2017, President Trump signaled a continuation and deepening of bilateral defense cooperation, announcing completed and proposed defense sales during his visit to Riyadh with a potential value of more than $110 billion. The sales include cases that the Obama Administration had proposed and notified to Congress, cases developed under the Obama Administration on which Congress had been preliminarily consulted, and new sales that remain under development.
The United States’ role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen has evolved over time. 65 At present, it consists of some intelligence sharing, aerial refueling, and the deployment of advisers to Saudi Arabia for border security and anti-ballistic missile purposes.66 In his latest biannual War Powers letters to Congress on the deployment of U.S. forces abroad in combat operations (P.L. 93-148), President Trump informed Congress about ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen and stated that U.S. forces in noncombat roles were providing “military advice and limited information, logistics, and other support to regional forces combatting the Houthi insurgency.”

So, on one hand, we’re supporting the side that’s indiscriminately bombing hospitals, school buses and children, and on the other hand, we’re spending millions of dollars for food and humanitarian assistance to help those who are bombed and starved.  Also, our Secretary of Swagger did not just announced the additional millions in food assistance but also cited “our generous example” in “galvanizing humanitarian assistance.” When is this going up on Instagram, people?

By the way, the most recent USAID/OFDA official said “no amount of aid money can prevent this famine” and that absent massive political pressure on the Saudi, this is just “window dressing.” 

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | Updated September 21, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).



USConGen Chennai: Diplomats Sample Hand-to-Mouth Dining at Kasivinayaga Mess

Posted: 2:41 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]


Back in 2013, we blogged about the “boodle fight” at US Embassy Manila (see US Embassy Manila Hosts a “Boodle Fight” … or Fine Dining Combat Without the Flatware).  This week, the US Consulate General Chennai posted its first video in the Madras Week video series — which highlights everyday rhythm of Madras culture, food, and traditions. The clip below shows how you eat your meal with your hands. Communal dining similar to the “boodle fight” but not quite as up close and personal (you get to have your own banana leaf as plate).

Also read Simple formula keeps this mess afloat and  The Rules For Eating With Your Hands In India, Africa And The Middle East.


US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services

Bliss is an emotional state that is characterized by perfect happiness (feelings of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction).

The State Dept announced last month that it intends to solicit replacement services that are currently being provided by KBR under the LOGCAP Program and services provided by DLA. The replacement services will be called Baghdad Life Support Services or BLISS for short.

Bliss in Iraq? Holy molly guacamole, who would come up with a name like that?

The selected contractor will be required to provide life support services to persons and organizations that are determined to be performing missions or functions in support of the Chief of Mission, including: COM personnel, selected civilian agencies, military units, and authorized contractors who directly support the COM.

Current life support for these sites is provided by the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s “LOGCAP IV” (Logistic Civil Augmentation Program), Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and Army Sustainment Command (ASC) Green Equipment Maintenance contract. These contracts are due to end in December 2013. The State Dept’s intent is to award this contract prior to May 1, 2013 and transition to a new DoS contract no later than September 30, 2013.

According to supplemental documents, following the award, the incumbent will require a minimum of 60 days to demobilize. The transition off of the DLA supply chain contract for food will be addressed in the formal RFP.

Background: The mission of the United States Embassy in Baghdad is to represent the United States of America to the Government of Iraq (GOI). The U.S. Ambassador (Chief of Mission (COM)) is the President’s representation to the GOI. The Embassy is located in the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad. The compound consists of 104 acres and is the largest U.S. Embassy in the world. The Embassy requires life, logistics, operations and maintenance services to support the Embassy, other locations within Baghdad and five or more diplomatic posts and facilities currently located in the provinces of Basrah, Diyala, Erbil, Ninewa and Tamim. This list may be modified during the life of this contract.

The Draft RFP Release dated November 16, and issued for information purposes only listed the following life support services requirements that may include services in the following areas to be specified under each individual task orders:

• Postal Services
• Food Services, to include, procurement of food and supplies, storage, preparation, serving, cleaning of facility
• Waste Management
• Laundry Services
• Fuel Services, to include Procurement and Delivery
• Recreation Services
• Airfield Services to include, air crash and rescue
• Transportation Services
• Warehouse Operations
• Supplemental Staffing and Maintenance Services to Regional Security Office (RSO)

A quick overview on the expected requirement on food services alone is mind boggling for an embassy operation (extracted from draft doc posted at fedbiz):

Baghdad Embassy Compound:

The main dining facility cafeteria area on the Embassy Compound is a 3,000 square meter facility that currently has a feeding and seating capacity of roughly 2,500 personnel. This area does not include the various refrigerated vans and containers used for storage of frozen, chilled and dry storage of food, or supplies. […] Additional feeding capacity projects are being contemplated to accommodate personnel surges. The maximum occupancy on the BEC is 2600, while Camp Condor houses 1129 and has its own dining facility.

Local Nationals (LNs) are only entitled to lunch meals, not breakfast or dinner. The largest feeding requirement occurs during lunch time during week days as LN direct hire personnel are entitled to eat lunch meals. Three snack bar operations located on the Embassy compound (1 within Annex 1, 1 in Annex 2, and 1 in the Chancery) alleviate the feeding demand during the lunch meal at the cafeterias. Two of the snack bar operations serve only cold sandwiches and hot soup. The Annex 1 snack bar is equipped with a grill that provides a hot entre lunch item 5 days a week: Sunday through Thursday.

Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC):

This is a 350-acre State Department-managed facility located next to the Baghdad International Airport (not within the IZ). BDSC houses 41 individual agencies or groups, totaling approximately 1600 personnel. The BDSC dining facility is a 2244 square meter facility that serves 1800* residents and transient personnel three meals per day. A grab-in-go (soup and sandwich bar) is open 14 hours daily (0830 – 2230). The dining area is 1182 m2, kitchen 531 m2 (warehouse 531 m2, which is connected to the kitchen) and serving lines 55 linear meter.

Erbil Diplomatic Support Center (EDSC):

This is a 2760-acre compound with a an office building, gym, warehouse, motor vehicle center, 800-plus containerized housing units, a fire station and other facilities. The EDSC DFAC is a 915 square meter facility that serves 790 residents three meals per day.

U.S. Consulate General Basrah:

Located on 53 acres, with the Consulate General building occupying 119 acres and the Air Hub occupying 34 acres. The Basrah dining facility currently serves 790 residents three meals per day.

For those four posts alone, and those are not all the posts we have in country, the USG need to serve 17,640 meals day!  But they gotta eat.  We’re looking at the plan for local sourcing next but we’ll post that separately.

domani spero sig


US Mission Iraq: Salad Bar Kerfuffle Due to 90% Drop in Daily Food Convoy Caused by “Regulatory Impediments”

Back in February, amidst the reported salad bar kerfuffle at the US Embassy in Baghdad, we asked a few questions, which obviously did not get any answer, good or bad (read Stop “whining” about the salad bar to the NYT, it’s “inappropriate”):

Did State anticipate that crossing the borders now manned by Iraqis would be messy? Did they anticipate that the Iraqis would want to approve/deny entry of supply convoys but that the government may have no process in place, but will never admit it?  Did State anticipate the multiple layers of bureaucracy required to approve entry of frozen chicken wings, and salad bar weeds trucked in from Kuwait? Is there a new SOP on what to do if the Iraqi guards do on chay break the rest of the day while supply trucks gets barbequed under the sun?

A U.S. Air Force airmen from the 70th Medium Truck Detachment lead a convoy through Iraq with a load of equipment and supplies Oct. 30, 2011. With less than five miles left before crossing the Iraqi border, the convoy of 43 vehicles traveled 1,100 miles in 7 days, hauling equipment out of the country as part of an effort to meet the deadline for the U.S. military to transition out of Iraq.
Photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

Now we know why they had no green weeds and went rationing the chicken wings. According to SIGIR:

“Earlier in the quarter, senior Embassy officials spent a significant amount of time working with the GOI to expedite the entry of U.S. food convoys from the Safwan border crossing, which lies just north of Kuwait. Reportedly, the number of trucks that entered Iraq through that crossing dropped for a time from 400–600 per day down to about 60 because of regulatory impediments imposed by the Ministry of Transportation.”

While the “impediments” imposed by the Iraqi Government hardly surprised us, we were quite stumped by the number of trucks running the food convoys.  Please note that we’re not saying our folks should not be feed.  It’s us — we just can’t begin to  imagine a hundred trucks end to end in a convoy, much more 600.  Every day.

Everything that has to do with our continuing project in Iraq is super-sized: the embassy is a giganotosaurus, the embassy staffing is over the top (no matter the “right-sizing”), the front office has one ambassador plus 5-6 assistant ambassadors, there are 350 police trainers, no 190, 100, 50, oh, who knows?

So 8,070 feet of food trucks lined up end to end should be a normal sight, considering the location, right?  Not that anyone would put them end to end, that would be much too tempting for the fireball guys. Except when the trucks are stuck end to end at the border crossing.

The report did not say if the “impediments” have been removed, or what other food sourcing options (MREs excepted) have been planned or implemented.

Domani Spero

U.S. Embassy Manila Launches Mini-Series – Kwentuhan Tayo, Pinoy-Style, and There’s Baluuut!

Last week, the US Embassy in Manila launched a new video mini-series on YouTube, called Kwentuhan Tayo, Pinoy-Style! (roughly means let’s tell stories or something like that). The introduction video features six American diplomats speaking about their lives in the Philippines in Filipino.  This is reportedly the first Filipino-language video series to be offered by the Embassy.

The embassy presser quotes Public Affairs Officer Robin Diallo:

“Speaking the local language allows our diplomats to communicate with Filipinos at a much deeper level […]  While most Filipinos do speak English, the U.S. Embassy understands the importance of making the effort to learn a Filipino language.”

We should note that Ethnologue lists 175 individual languages in the Philippines, 171 of which are living languages while 4 no longer have any known speakers. According to the country’s 2010 census, it has a total population of over 92 million of which some 22 million  or 24% are Filipino speakers. More than three quarters or 76% of the country speaks a language other than Filipino.

The embassy press release says that the first video offers a glimpse into some of the upcoming episodes in the mini-series, which will explore the lives of these American diplomats living in Manila:

  • Dustin, who spends his weekends volunteering with local communities in Pasay
  • Chris, whose grandfather was an American clergyman who came to the Philippines in the 1920s
  • David, who loves to try new Filipino foods in his Malate neighborhood
  • Kevin, a consular officer who was himself an immigrant to the United States
  • Steve, who has traveled extensively in the Philippines
  • Dina, a staff aide to the U.S. Ambassador who learned Filipino from her grandmother as a young child.

Kwentuhan Tayo – Pinoy Style

The most courageous of this crew is probably David, shown above eating balut (in the haute cuisine category cooked adobo style? with cutlery). He joins the likes of Anthony Bourdain in a culinary adventure known as eating balut with a spoon or hot vit lon in Vietnam and shown here in Bourdain’s show Cook’s Tour.

“There is a delicacy infamous in Filipino culture that can put a crippling chill in the spine of grown men almost as quickly as talk of aswang. That delicacy is the notorious balut. Balut is a popular Filipino street snack and is essentially a duck egg with a fetus inside, typically between seventeen to twenty days in gestation. In the Philippines balut is so popular that it is equivalent to what the hot dog is in the U.S. There are balut vendors who push around carts full of fetal treats and bark their wares in a sing-song chant of “baluuuut, baluuuut!” Balut is also a popular aphrodisiac for men. But even with the good vibes and positive spin surrounding balut, the stigma attached to eating it overshadows all the warm and fuzzy aspects of this very Deep End Dining dish.”

Fetal treats, indeed! If that’s not enough to make you cringe, we need to inform you that balut is numero uno in’s 6 Most Terrifying Foods in the World.  The ever optimistic website claims that if marketed properly, these eggs could be a “damn good motivator.”  Their rationale? “When you’ve looked death in the face at breakfast time, what the hell else can the day throw at you?”  Which actually makes sense when you come to think of it, right? No, not the part about having it for breakfast.

Anyway, to paraphrase’s especially made motivation poster, we’d suggest the following line for David’s EER, because why not, it’s April when most EERs are due and he’s too cute eating balut:

“He is an officer who lives without fear and has demonstrated his commitment to the embassy team.  During this rating cycle, he has eaten two goddamned duck fetus called balut for an online episode and maintained his diplomatic demeanor without making a mess or skipping a beat.”

Oh — and please add “he should be promoted at the first opportunity.” Um…. because EERs always say that.

We do hope this glimpse does not mean that David will be stuck doing webisodes sampling Philippine culinary fare.  Why? We’re afraid they might ask him to eat dinuguan next, which according to Wikipedia is “a Filipino savory stew of meat and/or offal (typically lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout) simmered in a rich, spicy dark gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili (most often siling mahaba), and vinegar.”

Except for the garlic, that sounds like vampire food. But write and let us know if you try it, please?

Domani Spero