In our whirlwind travel throughout Turkey these past three weeks, Mark and I first drove through the Troad Region of northwest Turkey (famous for the fabled city of Troy), where the food product of the moment seemed to be “dut suyu” (doot soo you), that is “mulberry juice”. We passed hundreds of roadside stalls all over the region hawking it exclusively. Although, in this region, there are two major towns– Ayvacik and Ayvalik (“Ayva” in Turkish means “quince” and “cik” and “lik” mean seller of)–there was not a single stand to be found selling quince. I guess we were there a bit too early in the season.
In our past visits here, we’ve seen “dut” stands along the roads, but this year’s stands sported professionally made banners reading “BUZ GIBI DUT SUYU”, which translates “ICE COLD MULBERRY JUICE”. Some banners, in advertising hyberbole mode, read “BUZ-Z-Z GIBI DUT SUYU”. We seem to be witnessing the transition in marketing from a product bought in bulk for home use to a soft-drink-like beverage for roadside drinking. A gambit that might work, since Turks are passionate about all kinds of fruit juices. We wish them luck!
As we drove through the Aegean region, heading east into central Anatolia, we passed roadside displays with more of a mix of produce, including melons, figs, and vegetables both fresh and pickled, and managed to treat ourselves to some, but not enough delicious, fully ripened figs, before we left the Aegean region behind.
It was the surprisingly common use of the terms “organik” and “naturel” that was new, and struck us as a bit odd. In my Langenscheidt Turkish/English dictionary “naturel” is not to be found; instead the Turkish words “dogal” and “tabil” translate as “natural”. While I did find “organik” in my dictionary, it is my impression that “canli”, also prescribed in the dictionary, would be more commonly used to mean organic as we used it, and that “organik” is a fairly recent foreign borrowing, in imitation of the curren use in Western food advertising. Whether these words actually mean what they say in Turkey, or are as misleading as so much of our advertising and labeling remains to be seen.
As we reached the Black Sea region, we stopped in a small town called “19th of May” (commemorating Ataturk’s founding of the Turkish Republic in a city nearby), we were surprised when we sat down to a simple lunch at a roadside restaurant well off the tourist path, to hear the waiter announce that the food was “organik” and “naturel”.
Until recently, I would have said:”Of course all the food we in Turkey is “naturel” and “organik,” since most Turkish agriculture has always been carried out by peasant farmers on their small plots using their own seeds for planting, with animal manure for fertilizingp–sustainable farming in its truest sense. But I have come to realize that I am now behind the times, and that increasingly these past few decades, the peasantry has been giving up or losing its plots and migrating to the cities, and larger and larger farms of an industrial nature are taking over the production of food. Does this sound familiar?
This transition was confirmed as we drove into the steppe country near Ankara, a region I had always known as largely grasslands, populated seasonally by nomads and their flocks. I was surprised to see large assemblages of long, open sheds along the highway, with stacks of hay, and herds of cows–obviously large-scale dairy operations. In addition we passed groups of very long, closed sheds and clusters of grain silos–obviously industrial chicken farms. I remembered seeing a similar process taking place in the steppe country around Konya on previous trips, and this time, new huge sugar beet raising operations, and around Istanbul, enormous greenhouse operations growing vegetables.
This fast-moving trend to industrially produced food, of course, must explain the entrance of “naturel” and “organik” into the Turkish food vocabulary.
Unfortunately, I believe these terms are a second hand sales-lingo borrowed from ‘advanced’ countries like ours and do not reflect a true organic farming movement. True, I have heard of an organic farm here and there in Turkey, but they usually seem to be described as some kind of oddity rather than a trend. In fact, in the town of Safranbolu, where we made a stop, an “organik” farm was listed amongst the historical sites and nature sights as a local attraction. Given the rarity of organic farms in Turkey, where I wonder, is this “naturel” and “organik” food coming from?
Another wake up call for me came as we moved along the Black Sea coast and ended our trip in Istanbul. Mark and I on this trip had enthusiastically enjoyed more than our fair share of fish dinners, grilled as only the Turks can do it. But at some point I became aware of something that troubled me. What I had been missing was the procedure customarily followed when ordering fish in Turkish restaurants.I had long been accustomed, when ordering fish either to be taken to the fish table where the iced fish are on display, or to have the waiter bring me a large tray displaying the types and sizes of fish available. I would then choose the particular fish I wanted, the fish would be weighed and a price agreed on, and I would indicate whether it was to be grilled or fried.
On this trip , I realized, I was simply shown a menu listing the kinds of fish available, and asked how it was to be cooked, but there was no weighing of fis. And I suddenly realized that practically all of the fish I had been seeing, whether in fish markets or restaurants, were of a suspiciously uniform size, that could only come from a fish farm, not a fish net.
With a shock, I realized that Turkey, virtually an island surrounded by the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean no longer could rely on fish caught in the wild, but instead was moving on to “aquaculture”.
Never in my wildest imagination when I lived there in the early 1960s could I have imagined that I would see Turkey, with all its natural resources and ancient farming traditions, taking the leap into the world of industrialized farming. But, alas, so it seems to be.