HEG thesis by Demet Güzey

27 Jan 2016

Demet Güzey is a food and wine expert from Istanbul. She earned a Ph.D. in Food Science from the US, and held various industry jobs as a product developer and innovation manager based in the Netherlands and France, before she has focused her attention to gastronomy and food writing. Her work is published in numerous academic journals. She is currently writing a book entitled “Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild”.

Demet is currently living in Verona, where she is gaining a deeper knowledge of food and wine culture of Northern Italy. This includes meeting chefs and wine producers, attending food fairs, and taking a WSET qualification in wines and spirits.

Demet has participated in the HEG program in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the social science and humanistic aspects food. This allowed her to explore the full diversity of food studies. On selecting a subject for her thesis she says “Having worked in the food industry internationally for the last nine years I was familiar with the more technical aspects of gastronomy. After HEG I started to look at food through new lenses. Therefore, I knew that my thesis would be on a topic that would combine historical, sociological and psychological aspects of food”.

One of the fascinating concepts she learned during the HEG studies was magical thinking and psychology of eating. She wondered whether what people think about food and what they think about other people was related. She wanted to contemplate about the role of food in a well-integrated society with the question of whether we could learn from our attitudes on sharing food in the past and today. For this she has chosen to do her research and write her thesis on the food rituals of some of the ethnic minority groups in Istanbul. Contrary to what one might expect, her findings showed that what makes us different can bring us closer, as long as we have an occasion to share them. Luckily, food rituals, old and new, can still create these occasions today. The abstract of her research is below.

Food rituals and rites of passage among some of the ethnic minorities in Istanbul and reflections on food and social integration

This thesis presents a study on food rituals of some of the minorities in Istanbul. The research question was whether minorities would stick to their old food traditions, which is an important part of their identity. The hypothesis was that these food practices contain strong symbolism and magical thinking and may contribute to part of their identity and because of this the food practices might have ben kept for generations. It was also expected that there are similarities in the food practices of various minority groups as they share a certain “otherness”.

Original research was conducted via interviews with Greek, Armenian and Jewish families on their food rituals, which they have been practicing, and changes in these over a few generations.

The results showed that common to all groups, there were symbolism and magical thinking attached to many foods and the way they were shared in passages of life. The recipes or tools have changed over time, and convenience won over some of the traditions, but the representations of these have not. This shows that magical thinking might be stronger than exact ritual. Families of Greek and Armenian background had more of the common otherness reflected in their food rituals, which can probably be attributed to their similar religious background, compared to Jewish families. There surely were unique practices in each group. Common to all, despite some difficult memories in collective history, conversations revealed a great affinity between these groups and where they lived.

As a conclusion, this study offers a reflection on ethnic diversity and how food sharing can support collective living in a multicultural city, by seeing and promoting differences as enrichment rather than a barrier. In the end, sharing food with commensality has magical properties that it brings people of different background together as a collaborative group. This way there is no competition or disagreement about being different, only the benefits of enrichment.

More information on her website: http://demetguzey.com/

Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des des Arts de la Table

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