That picture. I’ll come back to that picture. Soak it in! Have a laugh! Say “MY WIFE” like Borat!
Istanbul recently lost out on the chance to host the 2020 Olympics. It was competing with Tokyo and Madrid, with Tokyo winning in a landslide. Turkey got more votes than Madrid, so silver lining, etc. etc. In the aftermath of losing the vote has come newspaper columns asking why Istanbul didn’t get the bid. Was it the Gezi Park protests? The potantial Syrian kerfuffle? The poor level of disability access? Recent doping scandals? Islamophobia? The fact that the PM is errrrrrr… “less than ideal”? Let’s just say “hmmm, OK” to some aspect of all of the above.
Istanbul is a vibrant, unbelievably interesting city, but I don’t think it would have done well with the Olympics. It’s perpetually gridlocked, has no extensive or easy-to-use underground transportation, and can often feel gritty and paved over.
Of course, these things that make Istanbul a poor fit for hosting the games also make it one of the greatest cities to visit. It weeds out the fair weather tourists, the ones who cite their trip to Mazatlan as an example of international worldliness . You need to get used to being occasionally uncomfortable: air conditioning, when offered magnanimously, often feels like no more than a two degree temperature difference with the blowing power of a mouse queef. Almost no one speaks English. The kapali carsi (covered marketplace) is a decidedly unsexy meatmarket of jostling and negotiation. I had a guy follow me for a block inside the market once after I told him his skewers were waaaaay overpriced (which was true), and he was really ANGRY. When driving, the expression is “yol verilmez; yol alinir,” or “one doesn’t yield the road; one takes the road.” Sounds straight up Dothraki. As a pedestrian you’re like an undersized NFL wide receiver going across the middle with a shitty QB: you gotta keep your head on a swivel, otherwise you will be smashed in to tiny little pieces. In a nutshell, Istanbul still has its hipster traveler street cred, without giving a shit as to what that is, exactly, which cyclically translates into even MORE hipster traveler street cred.
I saw the above picture pop up on my facebook feed from myriad Turkish friends and acquaintances, with the caption: “The REAL reason Turkey didn’t get the Olympics!” My own meat-centricism aside, it highlights why food, and especially meat practices, are such a powerful lens for looking at a culture.
Why is this picture absurd? A man is carving a lamb outside in public in order to eat it, or perhaps to give away the meat during an “adak” (more on this later). Maybe it’s kurban bayrami (the Feast of the Sacrifice, also very Dothraki-sounding), and he’s about to share the meat with the less fortunate. In the industrial food system, closeness to animals and their death is an entrenched taboo. Having a chicken coop or backyard livestock was considered the sign of an agrarian, unrefined poor person. Going to the supermarket, with shiny aisles and sanitized displays, was seen as the epitome of an ideal of cultural evolutionism. (Such thinking haunted Anthropology, in which cultures that discovered the bow and arrow, e.g., would ideally evolve to gunpowder, agriculture, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo reruns, etc. Tacit in all this was that most of the “evolved” cultures were white, and these whiteys wrote these definitions. This is really simplified, and this isn’t a History of Anthropological Theory course, but it’s good to acknowledge past and present ideologies).
This man in the picture is also performing his own butchery. His garb would indicate that he’s not a professional, nor would the workspace indicate a brick-and-mortar place of business. Archaeological landscapes are not always buildings, per se, not to mention my own business-as-building bias, but this guy is cutting on a basketball hoop that he himself did not build, most likely. Industrialization loves a uniform; an indicator of specialization. Just take a moment to think about the stress caused by “business casual,” “black tie optional,” and “Sir, you can’t wear a blazer with assless chaps.”
Your average Berkeley/Portland/Brooklyn Slow Food aficionado no doubt appreciates a neighbor’s chicken eggs, urban rooftop heirloom tomatoes, and curing their own bacon, but this image still seems jarring. There’s no refrigeration. There’s no apron, no hand sink (blue tub on ground notwithstanding), in essence, none of the artifacts that signify it’s OK to get dirty, since you’re going to get clean pretty shortly. Most of all, it’s not in a pastoral setting that indicates to the West that it’s acceptable to roll up your sleeves and get a little muddy. This guy could be on his lunch break for all we know. (“Lunch break” being a nice butchery pun here, since you “break” meat down).
Just as important to consider, is that this picture came to me from a Turkish audience, a sample size that I can say is definitively Western-centric. It’s akin to me posting a picture of a redneck cooking a hot dog on his engine block, and cracking wise.
This guy probably finished breaking the lamb, tossed the parts into a Renault hatchback with aforementioned mouse-queef air conditioning, sat in traffic, got out, hauled the meat upstairs, had his wife pan fry (“kavurmak”) the ever-so-perishable offal, and froze the rest.
And I bet it tasted fucking delicious.