My Proposal

The 20th Century saw the mass disappearance of family farms and ancient food traditions such as butchery and seasonal eating for the goals of convenience and standardization. The Slow Food movement, founded in Italy in 1986, links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. The movement suggests that globalization is the root cause for obesity, food shortage, and the disappearance of local culinary practices. There is now a growing movement towards food transparency, reduced farm-to-fork distance, and a revitalization of moribund culinary practices. It is within this context of globalization and eating that I plan to examine how Turkish butchery methods are indicative and reflective of Turkish identity preservation in the face of rapid economic development. While much of the large-scale meat industry in the United States relies on intentional consumer dissonance as to the sacrifice of animals, I would like to see how the meat consciousness of Turkish omnivores guides culinary and cultural choice. My research will look at two distinct populations: the bustling metropolis of İstanbul, and the Slow Food city of Seferihisar. As a designated “Cittaslow” city, Seferihisar applies the concepts of Slow Food to everyday life in order to show that being Slow is not about resisting globalization as much as shaping the direction of change. My goal is to produce a work with general appeal which is soundly grounded in anthropological theory, much like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Theoretically I will draw on Arjun Appadurai’s work on globalization, Sidney Mintz’s vast canon on food, Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities,” and Pierre Bourdieu’s seminal book La Distinction.

Meat has always held a powerful sway over people due to its scarcity, symbolic value, and caloric richness. Since the Neolithic revolution eleven thousand years ago, humans – hunter-gatherer societies notwithstanding – have relied nearly exclusively on raising crops and pasturing animals for their food sources. Writ large, this domestication led to urbanization, rapid cultural evolution, and dramatic environmental impacts on the planet. Turkish agriculture is largely characterized by its non-industrialization, non-centralized farms, and high degrees of community self-sufficiency, which merge with ideals espoused by proponents of Slow Food. If Turkey has practiced and generally continues to practice eating “Slowly,” could local Turkish butchery represent an example of future global sustainability? I believe that the Turkish example has the potential to navigate the food argument of “fast versus slow” away from a false dichotomy and into a perspective that incorporates both human development and environmental sustainability.

I will be looking into how the practice of traditional Turkish butchery symbolizes the conflicting forces of local versus global as seen through development and cultural identity. After gaining perspective on an ideal – albeit incomplete and in no ways all-encompassing – of Turkish cultural and culinary identity, I want to document and disperse this knowledge to a Western audience. Do the rituals surrounding Ramadan and the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha/Kurban Bayramı) culturally bias Turks to be more conscious of meat choices due to the knowledge of animal sacrifice? I will also explore how whole-animal butchery – a globally disappearing trade – retains relevance in a rapidly industrializing Turkey. I will document the changing infrastructure of the meat system in Turkey as a conflict between traditional and industrial models. Turkish butchery represents a locus of halal and Western meat preparation, which I believe reflects greater truths about the ways in which Turkish society imbricates itself in the world. Dhabihah (İslam’da kurban, in Turkish) is the halal slaughter method which dictates an animal must not be stunned into unconsciousness (unlike Western industrial meat processing) prior to throat incision, along with other mandates about knife manipulation and animal respect. I hypothesize that this awareness represents a form of meat consciousness which offsets a comprehensive cultural transition to Western industrial meat processing. European bans on halal methods have been interpreted by Muslims as symbolic assaults on Muslim identity, subsumed under the guise of animal welfare. By understanding the Turkish link between East and West as it relates to meat, I hope to foster and expound on cultural understanding between peoples. My final research question will explore how locality is consciously expressed through not just butchery, but through Slow Food economy and landscape in Seferihisar, a town devoted to locally-directed globalization. A significant part of my work aims to break down preconceived Western notions of Turkey through the lens of a lost culinary art and, at a minimum, bring to light the sophistication and rich history of Turkish food to an American populace.

Turkey is in the midst of rapid social (the recent Gezi Park protests) and economic change, and a concerted effort to expand its interests eastward – a notable shift from the Western-centric alignment of Turkish policy for much of the 20th Century. Whether specific food rituals are imposed or ignored going forward has the potential to shed light on Turkish value systems as well as to demonstrate an adaptation to the larger struggle of humanity: incorporating the ancient with the new.

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