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Food Festival Offers Culture, Cuisine of the Americas

By Clara Longo de Freitas

Now in its 21st year, the Food Festival of the Americas is an all-day gastronomic celebration of the diverse cultures of the Americas that will be held Sun., May 19, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. outside the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS).

At least 25 member nations from the OAS, as well as observer states including Italy and China, will participate, providing traditional cuisine, music and dance performances. There will also be a children corner with arts and crafts, as well as a raffle to win prizes such as airline tickets, electronics, gift baskets and restaurant certificates. This year, OAS ambassadors will be promoting their countries during the festival, and visitors will have the opportunity to meet and speak with them.

“One of the beautiful things about the food festival is the bringing together of all different cultures and seeing how people [from different nationalities] relate,” said Joanne Renee Phillips-Spencer, president of the Organization of Women of the Americas (OWA), which is the main organizer of the event. “You can see how much of what you have in your country also exists in someone else’s.”

OWA Food Festival
The Food Festival will take place May 19, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Phillips-Spencer, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, said she discovered that the local drinks her island nation’s booth offers are not only popular in her homeland, but in other Caribbean and African countries as well.

Food Festival of the Americas
The annual Food Festival of the Americas, now in its 21st year, features food, music, folk performances and other activities showcasing the cultures of the Americas. 

“We [are] all connected in some form or the other,” Phillips-Spencer told the Diplomatic Pouch. “And that is part of the beauty of the food festival. By bringing cultures together, [we] build relationships.”

But behind the festivities and celebration of cultures, OWA has a larger goal: to help women in the Americas (also see “Organization of Women of the Americas Leaves Mark on Washington and the World” in the June 2018 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

OWA — a social and charitable nonprofit that consists of female ambassadors accredited to the OAS and wives of OAS ambassadors — has been a key part of the fabric of Washington’s diplomatic scene since its founding in 1997.

Every year, OWA chooses a theme to support. For 2019, the theme is “women for women: combating violence, advancing equality.” Each OAS member state will nominate an NGO to receive funding, and OWA will select a final winner. Last year, OWA financed a project called “Procura” in Mexico, which focused on economic training and empowerment of women.

But this year, Phillips-Spencer wants to work in all quadrants of the Americas — South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America — rather than just one country. She says that doing so will increase the organization’s visibility and people’s participation.

OWA Food Festival
The cuisine of the member and observer states of the Organization of American States is one of the highlights of the annual Food Festival of the Americas, organized by the Organization of Women of the Americas (OWA). 

“I felt that OWA [needs] to get a lot more recognition and people to value the environment, the community, the contributions made by OWA,” she said. “To do that, we are going to be engaging in a strategic plan to establish greater visibility, who we are and what we do.”

Phillips-Spencer says the festival has successfully expanded and the number of participating countries has grown over the last five years.

OWA has also worked in the past with the Inter-American Development Bank on natural disaster relief efforts. After Hurricane Maria hit Dominica in 2017, about 90 percent of the buildings on the tiny island were damaged and 71,000 people were displaced. The IDB collaborated with OWA, pledging to double the organization’s donations to Dominica.

Before choosing the organization that will receive the funding, OWA conducts extensive research on what it does, its experience within its issue area, what it will use the money for and who are going to be the beneficiaries.

Phillips-Spencer said OWA also follows up a year later. “We want to know how [the money] has been invested.”

As part of this year’s theme combating violence against women and advancing equality, Phillips-Spencer has proposed working with the Comisión Interamericana de las Mujeres and possibly hosting roundtables with women and female ambassadors in which they discuss women’s achievements in the workplace.

“One of the main things that we do is to support charities and nonprofits in the Americas,” Phillips-Spencer said. “And the festival is the OWA’s biggest fundraiser.”

Admission to the festival itself is free, but visitors contribute to participate in the raffle. All prizes are provided by the permanent missions.

“We all like to win stuff.” Phillips Spencer said, laughing.

Performances OAS Food Festival
Performances take place outside the Organization of American States as part of the Food Festival of the Americas.  

The booths will serve authentic food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, all of which are paid for with tickets. In past festivals, meals ranged from $2 to $10 dollars.

“We don’t see [the festival] being done anywhere else,” Phillips Spencer said. “It has this uniqueness about it because it’s a real taste of the Americas. It’s much broader taste of what you really get … and in a small place.”

The Food Festival of the Americas will take place May 19 at the Organization of American States parking lot, between 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. For more information, visit www.oas.org/oma/common_eng/about_us.htm.


Clara Longo de Freitas is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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