My food journal can be used as an anthropological tool, highlighting a number of different facets of my life. My background is that I am half-Turkish and half-Saudi, but grew up in Paris. So I have been exposed to a number of different types of food. I went through a period where I was unable to cook for myself, since I had no kitchen, but eventually I moved into my own place. This allowed me to renew my love of food. Eating out had become a chore, but now it is something that I want to do. There is also the element of food as celebration, something that comes from both Turkish and Saudi culture, and those are things that I have missed, even in Paris.
My food diary shows a variety of food/social categories. Mary Douglas (1972) wrote that a meal can be deciphered, operating on the idea that food is a coded message. Indeed, anthropologists would often go through cooking sites to learn about what people ate, which gave some hints as to what technology they had access to. Douglas notes that there are some units -- daily menu, meal, course, helping and mouthful. These are useful to understand the different measures of food. Over the course of my journal, I noticed that I ate m multiple times over the course of the day.
But more important was that I would indulge quite a bit when I had the chance to eat the foods I have missed. Having been deprived for so long, I made sure when I went back to Istanbul that I ate all the classic foods -- menemen, simit, kebap, kofte and lokum. These are all very traditional Turkish foods. If I still lived there, I might not eat these all in a typical day, but whenever I go home it seems I become overcome with homesickness. My eating habits change -- I eat more and more often -- and I do this in part because it helps me to create the setting and to alleviate some of the homesickness that I feel. Food is such a big part of my own identity. I feel that perhaps it is such a big part of my identity specifically because I have moved away, that I must reinforce my identity when I go home. There was also a strong social aspect, since I would not eat by myself much when home. I might at most eat a simit while walking around, but no meal could possibly be consumed alone. This is actually the case for me in Paris as well, and one of the reasons why it was so tedious not to have a kitchen -- I always needed to gather somebody to eat out with me, and I would eat out for almost every meal.
Another element in the food journal is that of reciprocity and gift exchange. Mauss notes three obligations that are attached to a gift. A gift has three obligations -- the obligation to give, the obligation to receive and the obligation to repay. This reminds me of the opening scene of the Godfather where Don Corleone tells the man he will do him a favor, but one day he will ask for something in return. Tea in particular is like that for Turks, and my food journal has a couple of good examples of this. The story of my mom giving the old lady tea and lokum is one such example.
The old lady was in the park sewing when we were having tea. My mother simply asked her how she would like her tea, and gave her a gift of tea and sweets. This is something that will happen in Turkish culture. There is an obligation on the part of my mother to give the old lady tea, partly because it is a societal norm but partly because she is an old lady -- we would not give some random man tea so readily. But there is an element of giving here at work, where there is an obligation to give. The old lady might not want tea, but she is obligated to take the tea, since it has been offered. The only real part of the gift-giving equation that is in question is the aspect of reciprocity. The reciprocity in this case is more societal than anything else. There is no expectation that the old lady will ever give us something -- we may never see her again. But the expectation is that when my own mother is that age, she might receive the same courtesies from society.
Symbols are also embedded in the food we eat. I noticed that there were some things that were, for me, symbols of Istanbul. A good example is kumpir, which is the potato with cheese, hot dog, pickles, corn and mayo. Now this is something that does not really have any inherent Turkish ingredients. Throughout the food journal of my trip home, I eat a lot of really classic Turkish foods that have a long history with my people. Kumpir is not one of these. The ingredients are not Turkish and the presentation is not really Turkish either. It's just a fast food mess. While classic Turkish foods have an obvious symbolism of home, it is interesting to see how this symbolism can be transferred even to a dish that is actually not very Turkish, but only for the name and the way it is presented. Something can be a strong symbol of home even if its connections with my people are somewhat modern and not just a little bit tenuous.
Another theme that occurs in the food journal is that of body image and social values. It is one thing for me to eat a lot at home, but I also wanted to start a diet at one point and started to skip dinner. This is something that does not make much sense intuitively, but I would do this. It was interesting to read Sobo (n.d.) describe Jamaican culture as basically the opposite of Western culture. Turkish culture is not entirely Western in the desire for thinness, but there is a beauty ideal that has some European influences. The Jamaican ideal of fatness, because it illustrates one's social standing, is fascinating because it runs counter to what other societies to believe. In Jamaica, I would never consider a diet. It is also worth noting that my solution -- go without dinner -- is not medically sound but is something that when you tell people they do not necessarily try to talk you out of it. They should, but they do not.
Fischler (2011) discusses commensality -- eating with other people. This is an interesting concept that comes out of my food journal. In Paris, this became a challenge because I was mostly alone and always eating out. The situation became much better when I found people who also wanted to eat out. But with family especially, eating together is really important. Food is something important for bonding. I know that in Saudi culture, a meal can be very large and take a long time. There is a lot of conversation that goes on during that time. The same thing happens with Turks, even if the meals are slightly smaller. When I was in Istanbul, I ate with members of my family frequently. Food or tea were the best ways to bond -- there is an intrinsic link between food and social bonding. Thus, when returning home you cannot merely see people, but you must eat with them.
The conversations sometimes blend from the meal to a post-meal period. Essentially, the meal serves as a catalyst for the conversation and should continue into the post-meal period. Eventually the conversation can break,…