Slow Food Communities in Türkiye Lead Major Gastronomy Event in Cappadocia

28 May 2023

A remarkable gastronomy event was hosted by Cappadocia University, Türkiye, in the historic village of Mustafapaşa, holder of “The Best Tourism Village of the World” title awarded by the UN World Tourism Organization in 2021. With the title of “Turkish Cuisine Week: International Panel and Workshop on the Improvement of Local and Sustainable Gastronomy”, the event was organized on 25–26 May 2023 as part of the “Turkish Cuisine Week/21–27 May 2023” scheme of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, celebrated under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye since 2022.

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Led by the Slow Food Cappadocia and Slow Food Tarsus communities as well as the host university, the event was supported by the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO, the Governorship of Nevşehir, and the Ahiler Development Agency.  The 2-day event aimed to develop a road map for the enhancement of the relationship between the improvement of local and sustainable gastronomy on one hand, and national and local tourism industry on the other. Aligned also with Slow Food’s strategic priorities, the two ultimate goals of the series of events were to create wider awareness about the impacts of our food consumption habits on individual and community health, as well as on the local and planetary ecosystems; and to prevent the loss of local gastronomical cultures and traditions in Türkiye.

The wealth of the Turkish cuisine that developed since antiquity in Anatolia that is among the richest regions in the world in terms of the diversity of agricultural produce was the main framework within which more than 40 experts and specialists explored this relatively under-explored wealth. The wide spectrum of the participants of the trans-sectoral and trans-disciplinary series of events included academics, leaders of NGOs, independent gastronomy researchers, agricultural entrepreneurs and cooperatives, businesses in the tourism and gastronomy industries, the representatives of Slow Food Italy, the leaders of the Slow Food communities in Türkiye, and the officials from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, including those of Türkiye Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA).

In their opening remarks, the administrators of local governments, sponsoring agencies, and the organizing institutions expressed the significance of this timely event and the value of its expected outcomes, considering the multiple predicaments caused by the immediate crises and risks encountered at not only the local and national levels, but also at the planetary level. On a more optimistic note, the ongoing efforts of Cappadocia University, which provides effective synergy by collaborating with the Slow Food communities as well as other critical stakeholders and partners, was also highlighted. Cappadocia region’s leading position in Türkiye in terms of the presence of an awareness about gastronomical cultures and of concrete steps toward reinforcing this awareness by investing in educational institutions was also noted.

 width=At the first of the two panels planned on 25th May, Elisa Demichelis of Slow Food International provided an overview on the organization’s strategic objectives and priorities, which were also further explained by Yasmina Lokmanoğlu of Slow Food Tarsus to the audience in their direct relevance to the Turkish contexts, customs, and practices. While the views of various sectoral and NGO entities in Türkiye were also shared by leading stakeholders (e.g., restaurant owners, the sustainability director of a major supplier) the sharing of good sustainable gastronomy practices of an individual business in Germany provided yet another international perspective, giving the audience an opportunity for the comparison of opportunities and threats. On the second panel of the first day, the principles of “Good, Clean, and Fair” food were explored in their ethical, cultural, educational, and practical dimensions by the invited speakers who provided perspective from the academy, the enterprises, and the international organizations like UNESCO.

On 26th May, the more than 40 participants of the event contributed to four separate, custom-designed workshops. The day-long workshops were focused on 1) “The Contributions of Local and Seasonal Food Consumption to the Preservation of Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Human Health”, 2) “The Detection and Registration of Local Products and the Increasing of their Visibility”, 3) “The Role of Education in Developing Awareness about the Benefits of Local and Seasonal Food Consumption”, and 4) “Assessment of the Sustainability Requirements in Gastronomy Tourism from the Standpoint of Restaurants and Hotels”. Using the “idea tray” method, members of the 4 working groups shared their views, knowledge, and experiences to first elaborate on the key concepts governing the themes of the workshops; then, to identify common challenges and problems; and, finally, to offer feasible solutions including project ideas and policy proposals.

 width=On the topic of “The Contributions of Local and Seasonal Food Consumption to the Preservation of Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Human Health”, among the issues suggested as problems were the industrial agriculture orientation of the secondary and higher education curricula, and the scarcity of eco-friendly produce and the resulting high costs for consumers.  The working group offered many solutions including the introduction of multidisciplinary curriculum elements at schools, the provision of incentives to small businesses and cooperatives, and the creation of small scale sustainable agricultural pockets in urban areas, especially by revitalizing the custom of the city bostan (garden) in the metropolitan areas.

The group that worked on “The Detection and Registration of Local Products and the Increasing of their Visibility” detected the misuse of funds (merely to appeal to trends and fashions) and the lack of ethical and effective communication and interaction among stakeholders as some of the major problems. On the solutions end, the group suggested a transformation from egocentric mindsets to ecocentric ones as the highest-level priority, to be complemented by specific steps taken toward the use of social media for awareness building, the updating of cultural and agricultural policies, and the improved of organization of the supply-demand cycles.

With the clear emphasis on the entire event program on education, the third group explored “The Role of Education in Developing Awareness about the Benefits of Local and Seasonal Food Consumption” for which they spotted the lack of awareness and knowledge among parents, teachers, and other key stakeholders, as well as the lack of adequate content in the K12 curricula. Accordingly, the solutions they offered included curricula revisions by the Ministry of Education which should be undertaken by integrating input from all stakeholders and also address local needs, the effective use of smart phones and social media as educational tools, and implementation of custom-designed projects with theoretical and applied components.

Members of the fourth working group who focused on “Assessment of the Sustainability Requirements in Gastronomy Tourism from the Standpoint of Restaurants and Hotels” turned the spotlight on the ‘field’ and expressed the lack of standardization in costs, supply systems and the quality of products as a major problem. The neglection of the realities of small businesses in the specification of international criteria and national legislation was also articulated as a challenge which obstructs the financial sustainability of these entities. Their solutions also included the provision of incentives to small businesses, establishment of monitoring and inspection systems, and the launching of advocacy campaigns for “responsible restaurants” and “responsible consumers”.

 width=The International Panel and Workshop on the Improvement of Local and Sustainable Gastronomy” came to an end with the closing session at which all four working groups presented their findings and suggestions. As anticipated, the closing session was by no means dominated by a sense of finality. Rather, the participants left the venue with solid project agreements and other prospective plans for collaboration. During the two days’ event, the faculty members and students of The Gastronomy and Culinary Arts Department of Cappadocia University hosted three separate events in which the participants had the opportunity to experience the local cuisine enriched with produces and recipes of Cappadocia. The full report of the panel and workshops will also be published in the upcoming weeks by Cappadocia University and distributed among the governmental and non-governmental partners, stakeholders, and the larger public.

As the host of “Bir Başka Kapadokya 2002” (“Another Cappadocia 2022”), the first gastronomy festival in Cappadocia organized back in 2022, Cappadocia University also published the Turkish translations of Slow Food Education resources (In What Sense, Slow Food Education Handbook, and RegenerAction Toolkit) as open access materials aligned with its Sustainable Cappadocia policy and structures. While the university’s dedication to make sustainable gastronomy the only gastronomy there is will continue in the future, the images from the panels and workshops of 25–26 May 2023 can be accessed at Cappadocia University’s Sustainable Gastronomy webpage.

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