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A More Tasteful Side To The Axis Of Evil


When they write the book about the rhetorical achievements of George W. Bush, one turn of phrase deserves its own chapter. It was January 2002, and during the State of the Union, the president linked the countries of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea with this now-famous sentence.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

SMITH: At Callahan's Diner in Santa Monica, California, a foreign policy analyst, Chris Fair, was eating pancakes and watching the speech. She'd traveled extensively around the regions that Mr. Bush was describing, and she just couldn't get over those words, axis of evil.

Ms. CHRIS FAIR (Foreign Policy Analyst; Author " Cuisines of the Axis of Evil"): I'm a professional analyst of South Asia. It was pretty clear to me that the Taliban, al-Qaeda had nothing to do with any of those three countries named.

SMITH: Chris Fair thought this could be a recipe for international disaster. Then she just started to think about the recipe part.

Ms. FAIR: I'm a food-obsessed person. I think about food all the time. Also, I cook when I get depressed.

SMITH: If President Bush could link Iraq, Iran and North Korea, then so would she. What emerged was a cookbook, "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations." The book is half foreign policy and half menu planning, kind of a Martha Stewart meets Henry Kissinger thing. You learn that Asian pear is the secret to a great North Korean bulgogi, and you can digest that along with a list of the human rights offenses of Kim Jong-il. The history of Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction is just as spicy as the okra and lamb stew. Bam!

Ms. FAIR: In the course of my travels, I've become really acclimatized to the politics of food, be it the really simple things like how the food is produced and who does it, and who gets to eat it, whether or not the country has food at all. So I think using the cookbook and using food to really express my various degrees of analytical and personal frustration came very natural to me.

SMITH: All this talk of terrorism and oppressive regimes can make someone hungry. Luckily, Chris Fair invited us to one of her axis of evil dinner parties here in Washington, D.C. While Fair was writing the book, she would invite friends and diplomats over to test out the recipes and debate international politics. On this night, the buffet was Iranian.

Ms. FAIR: We have a dish that's supposed to be khoresht, which is traditionally made of celery. And Iranians have a particularly unique ingredient that they use in dishes like that. It's basically a dried lime. It gives it this really fine sour/bitter taste. It's very distinctive.

SMITH: At the party, you could see the crazy logic of digestive diplomacy. It's much more difficult to start a war with Iran after tasting their version of the dessert baclava. One of the guests at the party was won over. Sarah Taylor works for the National Zoo.

Ms. SARAH TAYLOR (Employee, National Zoo): Well, if it is evil, it's the best-tasting evil I've ever tasted. It tastes like honey and cinnamon and pistachios, and it's delicious.

SMITH: That's why Chris Fair says at its heart, this cookbook isn't just a joke.

Ms. FAIR: One of the interesting symbols of nationalism is food. We often don't think about it. But think about the efforts, for example, in New Orleans, to resurrect their cuisine after Hurricane Katrina. Think about how much France goes about protecting, you know, something as simple as a French baguette.

SMITH: You're a foreign policy analyst, and I'm going to trust you on some of these brainy issues. But what about the food? I mean, how do I know that the stuff actually tastes good? You know, you talk a good game on foreign policy, but let's talk cuisines. How did you learn how to do this?

Ms. FAIR: Well, again, you know, I'm a nut about food. And part of it is just triangulation. I'll go to a country, I'll eat something. I'll try to find a recipe either online, or I'll try to talk to someone about how they make it, or certainly from a cookbook. And I'm pretty shameless, you know. I'll just go, hey, waiter, you know, I'm trying to make this particular chupli(ph) kebab, and I can't get it quite right. What's your secret? And you know, they're actually very forthcoming, often whispering, you know, where their managers aren't paying attention.

SMITH: Sounds a lot like our intelligence agencies in the United States.

Ms. FAIR: I like to think of myself as a culinary spook.

SMITH: Chris Fair is a foreign policy analyst and a former political affairs officer for the United Nations. She's the author of "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil" published by The Lyons Press. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. FAIR: No, thank you for having me.

SMITH: To read more of Chris Fair's musings on international relations, visit us on the Web at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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