G-20: G for gastronomy

G-20: G for gastronomy

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
G-20: G for gastronomy Many read G-20 as the group of major economies of the world. As a food writer, I tend to take the letter “G” for gastronomy, and try to see the whole picture through the glass of gastronomy. The gastronomy is the study of food and culture and is described as the practice or art of choosing, cooking and eating good food. After all, who does not need food? Moreover, if one has access to enough food, who does not want better food? Like all living creatures in the world, human beings are nurtured on food and all will fight for it or die, to suppress their hunger. When their hunger is satisfied, they are going to look for more of it or for a better version of it, this time to satisfy the hunger for pleasure. It is human nature; no wonder all religions consider greed as one of the greatest sins. Unfortunately, the letter “G” also stands for greed. 

Gastronomy, as a word coming from Ancient Greek (“gastér” meaning stomach and “nómos” meaning laws that govern), describes, in a way, the governance of our stomachs over our lives. In that context, I tend to take the word in its broader sense, covering all aspects of human life, from agriculture to religion, from health to pleasure. Naturally, human hunger and greed governs the world, its economies and trade. If we go back to the very roots of economy and trade, it is food again. It is, in a way, ironic that all the fight over ruling the world happens exactly where trade has first started, Mesopotamia. Alas, it is more about fuel now, another kind food for energy. 

First, it was the start of agriculture; upper Mesopotamia was home to the first cultivation of the wheat grain. Turkey is home to agriculture. The earliest remains of wild wheat dating back thirteen thousand years, was found at the site of Göbeklitepe, very close to Urfa, just north of Syria. The domestication of wheat and other grains was a major step toward the establishment of farming communities, which later gave rise to the great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Anatolia. The abundance of wheat has greatly facilitated the transition from village to city and city-states, and led to the emergence of regional powers. Peoples of Anatolia acknowledged their debt to wheat by incorporating it in their celebrations and rites of passages, mirroring in their own lives the role played by wheat in the history of their civilizations. Recent ethno-archaeological studies reveal the unbroken cultural chain in agricultural practices. Wild wheat still grows in the region, popping up here and there. Agriculture is still the driving force in the geography, and so are the eating practices. Some food items are exactly like millennia ago and the way of life remains pretty unchanged for the peasants sustaining on agriculture, despite the treasure beneath them, oil. The reality is little has changed in this geography, especially when it comes to the regional powers; people are still talking in terms of clans of families and the areas of their tribal power. To change this is a challenge. Since now, at least in Turkey, political parties fuelled this feudalism, depending on the votes of these regional powers of tribal families. Real democracy can only be possible by changing this, if it ever exits of course…

These were lingering doubts in my mind while I was in a tent near the G-20 meetings reserved for cultural activities. I was about to give a presentation titled “Turkish Culinary Talks;” my topic was about yogurt and “tarhana,” a traditional way of preserving yogurt and wheat grain, which I like to call the first instant soup of the world. Suddenly, I realized that what we need to save the planet is to manage or resist not changing. In an era of climate change, we need more and more sustainable energy sources, more and more sustainable food. 

The real challenge is preserving traditional food like tarhana, thoroughly natural, healthy and sustainable. Most of the contemporary food we eat today did not even exist half a century ago. Ancient preserving methods never made use of electricity or energy. Drying food was one of the easiest preserving methods that did not require any preservatives or additives, not even the most natural preservative, salt. When the nomadic culture of the Turkic people coming from Central Asia met with the agrarian cultures of Mesopotamia, something miraculous happened. Yogurt met with wheat grain and thus tarhana was created. 

There is a lot of wisdom hidden behind this weird-looking lump of dried food that can quickly be turned into a heart-warming, belly-filling dish. It looks as if it was dug from an archaeological excavation, but it is still produced by people with the same method and it conveys a message to the future. We need to take lessons from the past, or better to say recipes from the past!

Event of the Week:

While big meetings were taking place on the governmental side, the G-20 was also home to culture events. The G-20 Home Culture Zone hosted a number of activities, from music to whirling dervishes, marbling to silk weaving, and tile making to intricate traditional filigree work. Of course, gastronomy was not forgotten. While Turkish Airlines Flying Chefs demonstrated several Turkish dishes at the demo kitchen, I was responsible for giving the Turkish Culinary Talks. A big congrats goes to the vision of Foreign Affairs Ministry for arranging everything up to world standards. All the exhibits gave insight on the rich past of Turkey, particularly the one of coffee. The exhibition of Turkish coffee, with the collection of artist and collector Şahin Paksoy, was outstanding, especially given the fact that it was miraculously organized in a mere three days. It displayed only a fraction of the whole collection, yet gave a good representation of all the paraphernalia related to the process of making traditional Turkish coffee. At the last minute, I was able to create a booklet about Turkish coffee stitching together my two previous works: one on the chronology of coffee and another article co-authored by my collector friend, Nihal Bursa. Also, thanks to designer Suzan Aral, who helped to create the most beautiful online booklet, under the most unlikely conditions. While you read this article, the booklet will be presented to the First Ladies visiting the “Home of Culture” tent, while Turkish coffee will be served by the Turkish Airlines Flying Chefs, made by their “We’re” brand coffee from Nar Gourmet.