Negotiating the Modernity Crisis: Globalization, economic gain and the loss of traditional and sustainable food practices in Turkey

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Classics


A globalized food system, seemingly of international benefit, poses many hidden dangers, particularly for developing countries. A desire within LMICs to modernize and enter the global economy has resulted in the loss of local and traditional foodways, instead replaced by imported and processed items. However, these traditional practices are our best hope for a secure, sustainable and nutritious food supply as they are healthier and more climate-friendly than the purchased alternative.

Turkey, as a LMIC, faces two major challenges. The first is avoiding a slide into a fully globalized food system whereby traditional food practices are eliminated. Increasing urbanization and a neoliberal attitude to agriculture has already significantly altered food acquisition and consumption practices. Unhealthy western fast food outlets are an ever-increasing sight. In Turkey women are the crux of the home; food processing and cooking belong almost exclusively to the female realm. The second challenge is to negotiate an ongoing struggle with modernity, namely finding a solution to the desire to continue to practice traditional foodways yet simultaneously modernize, a struggle particularly pertinent for women as they increasingly enter the work force.

The project, a collaboration between Royal Holloway (UK) and Koç University (Turkey), tackles key components of the UN's SDGs 5 (gender equality), 11 (sustainable communities) and 12 (responsible production and consumption). The project aims to articulate and find solutions to Turkey's challenges by studying the dynamics of sustainable foodways in the province of Manisa, and especially the agency of women, through an exploration of ancient and traditional diet and processing practices. As archaeologists, we leverage the legacies of food, bringing a deep knowledge of the past into the present. Using archaeobotanical (ancient plant) data from the two archaeological sites of Kaymakçi and Sardis we explore the way people continuously produced food in this region for over 4000 years. Here practices of the past may provide a pathway towards a more sustainable future; there are valuable lessons to be learned from the way people negotiated massive cultural, religious and climatic changes. Training and education in archaeobotanical research aims to enhance this under represented discipline within Turkish archaeology and provide new employment opportunities, especially for women.

We also seek to understand more broadly how contemporary communities have shifted their practices given the challenges faced by Turkey's current LMIC status. In collaborative and capacity building workshops with members of rural and urban Manisa communities, we will engage in two-way conversations. Participants will cook traditional foods and discuss their own experiences and solutions to the struggle with modernity while we will discuss our archaeobotanical findings with the aim of linking past and present landscapes.

The outcomes of our research will be disseminated through traditional academic methods and a range of public-facing activities. Our archaeobotanical findings, in peer-reviewed articles and available on open access databases will make a significant contribution to Turkish archaeobotanical research and ancient foodways more broadly. We will unite our archaeological work with the workshop data to create a free exhibition in Istanbul and a cookbook (hardcopy and free PDF download). Visitor surveys will create an engagement feedback loop, allowing visitors to articulate their own experiences of a changing foodscape. With Manisa and Istanbul as case studies, we hope to expand upon our results to aid Turkey and other LMICs find the necessary medium between sustainability, food security and globalization.

Planned Impact

Our project aims to engage individuals from rural and urban communities living near the sites of Sardis and Kaymakçi, Koç University students and members of the general public in both Istanbul and the Manisa region. We have created a range of public-facing outputs and activities designed to educate, exchange knowledge and engage in conversation with members from each of our beneficiary groups. Moreover, we will disseminate the results in a multitude of physical and digital formats to minimize any accessibility issues related to travel, finances, technology, age or gender. Our outreach impact activities include:

- A bilingual (Turkey/English) nine-month audiovisual exhibition held in Istanbul. It will incorporate data from our archaeobotanical research and our collaborative workshops, highlighting sustainable food practices over the longue durée and the current struggle with modernity
- A cookbook, associated with the exhibition, published by Koç University Press, and available in hardcopy and an open access PDF, will present recipes and detailed commentaries arising from the knowledge acquired during our workshops. Free hardcopies will be distributed to all workshop participants.
- An exhibition visitor survey to be filled out on digital devices asking visitors about their own struggles with modernity. A summary of the resulting publication will be emailed to participants.
- Remodelled exhibitions at Sardis, Kaymakçi and the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography in Manisa. The travelling exhibition is designed to allow local individuals and workshop participants to view the material without the need to travel to Istanbul.
- Seminars and workshops on archaeobotany, hosted by the PI and held at Koç University, open to all university students and members of the general public

Individuals from all identified beneficiary groups will benefit from this research. The presentation of the archaeobotanical data to the workshop groups, exhibition visitors and seminar attendees will provide individuals with a better understanding of Turkey's food past and we hope provide additional meaningful connections to local landscapes. Moreover, individuals will become aware of a growing field of archaeological research, meaningful in particular to the students, as it represents a future career opportunity. During the capacity building workshops, which will feed into the exhibition, we aim to provide participants with an opportunity and a space to openly discuss their own struggles with modernity and share solutions. Participants will furthermore benefit by having their cooking practices and recipes recorded in the cookbook and through photography and video. Similarly, by raising awareness of Turkey's struggles with modernization and a globalized food system, and presenting the solutions discussed at the workshops, we hope to make exhibition visitors feel less isolated. We want visitors to be able to take away some of the solutions found by others. The feedback loop of the survey has a similar intended benefit, to create a sense of a shared rather than isolated struggle and inform individuals of a wide array of solutions. In summary, we wish to start conversations where communities can form and groups can find a comfortable medium whereby modernity is achieved but not at the cost of losing familial food traditions and Turkey's rich food heritage.

We envision 150 participants in the workshops and at least 1000 people to attend the exhibition. The cookbook will hit a large audience, possibly into the thousands -- anyone interested in this concept of past, present and future will be able to download the soft copy of the cookbook. We anticipate that over 100 students will attend the seminars and workshops. Overall, we see impact in many parts of Turkish society, from those in higher education to local villages and expect that at minimum at least 2,000 people will benefit directly from our research.


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Description Thus far we have discovered that there is a huge range of local foods, particularly greens foraged and exploited by the local communities in the Manisa region. We have also found that landscape changes, as a result of political and economic action, has forced individuals to change their diets (ie. the construction of large dams, decreasing fish populations). As a result of Covid we have only been able to undertake one fieldwork session so far, but there are many more to come.
Exploitation Route The information can be fed back to governments, policy makers and climate specialists. The reliance of rural communities on local produce is essential, and extremely beneficial when it comes to reducing pressure on the environment and the global food supply.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Koc University 
Organisation Koc University
Country Turkey 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided equipment in the form of a microscope for archaeobotanical research and an iphone to use in the field to document food production practices. We have also provided the expertise of both the PI and the archaeobotany postdoc in the teaching of the course. Moreover, all project staff have now been trained in safeguarding management.
Collaborator Contribution They have provided accommodation at ANAMED in Istanbul for the PI and one of the postdocs for an upcoming fieldwork trip. They have also validated the creation of a new archaeobotany course.
Impact Creation of a new archaeobotany course.
Start Year 2021