In the Fall of 2013, I started my first semester of graduate school and was on my way to receive an MLA in gastronomy, a program focused on food studies through policy, anthropology, sociology, raciology, psychology - all the "-ologies." I walked in feeling young, behind, and unaware compared to my peers who were, for the most part, already participating in the world of food through writing, research, policy development, saving the world, etc. This feeling was particularly acute when the discussion around the word "authentic" unfolded before me in my Gastronomy: Theory and Methodology course. It seemed that everyone knew this word had no place in our world, but the worst part: a week prior to this class I had used "authentic" to describe my delicious bibimbap dinner in a post on Instagram.
A seemingly inoffensive word, authentic is often used to describe an item, place, or food that we judge to be close to its place of origin or made by the people known for its existence. It is a word loaded with meaning and often creates barriers for entry and an attitude of exclusivity. According to Kevin Alexander in his article about authenticity, "there is an obsession with origin, a need to discover, and a need to own, and a tendency to use those three things to assert superiority over others." The reality is that food is always evolving and a fixed point of 'authenticity' does not exist in any cultural setting.
With the influx of cuisines and cultures available to American palates, also came the elusive hunt for the most "authentic" version of tacos, sushi, falafel, etc. Alexander adds, "the word 'authentic' is touchy. A certain strain of foodie scours ethnic enclaves, searching for 'authentic' meals they've never experienced. Different groups battle over who 'owns' a certain cuisine and what the 'authentic' preparation for that cuisine is. Chefs seek to give diners an 'authentic' taste of a type of food through the ingredients, preparation, and setting. Being able to recreate or experience an 'authentic' meal...has long been a badge of honor in the American food world, a way to announce the seriousness of your intent as both an eater and a cook." But really this is a concept of consumption, a focus on ownership and product of inadvertent marketing.
Much like Surekha Ragavan in his article titled, Authenticity in food: What defines it and does it matter?, we also have to acknowledge that if "a cuisine takes unexpected turns along the way, it’s a sign of changing social, cultural, and agricultural environments, or a shift in economic health." People learn to adapt to their circumstances and cook what they can afford and what is available to them; historically, that is how we survived.
As we interact with food, we need to find the balance between acknowledging ingredients and preparation methods that are inspired by a particular group of people while also allowing the food to evolve and take shape. The powers of globalization are a force and they impact gastronomy directly on an everyday scale. With this influence of globalization, the rate of change in the food world has accelerated to a never-before-seen speed.
As an American food writer in Turkey, I feel especially sensitive and alert to these claims of authenticity or right and wrong. I can take a simple recipe for beans and rice, and have many Turks criticize me for the types of beans I use or the way I soak them. Not to mention the many other cultures and countries surrounding Turkey, who also share a similar food history. As I continue to exist in this space, I take on the position of a learner, to be present with my Turkish family and learn their ways of working with food but also to zoom out and gain a greater perspective on how these dishes and meals came to be. I am not here to promote a specific food from a specific nationality and according to Ragavan, "it’s the very dangerous idea of a cuisine belonging to one culture, one race, or one shade of skin; or the outdated notion that food is a product of nature, but never of nurture." Food is a representation of migration patterns, belief systems, wars, empires, famines, conquests, etc. and it is in our interest to resist the urge to claim or take ownership of how things "should" be done.
So the next time you are tempted to use the word-that-shall-not-be-mentioned, think more deeply about what you are trying to say. Is the food traditional or modern? Is the food made local to a specific place? Or is it deliciously unique to your experience? According to me and Ragavan, "the senseless notion of authenticity must be repaired with the mindset that no one country or region truly owns the food that comes out of it. Authentic is not a flavor; it’s not the blood and toil that go into the making of a dish, it’s not for anyone to call out."
A Few Things I am Loving:
Another beautiful article about his love for Toco Bell and further touches on the idea of "authenticity" in relation to food.
I am loving a new show called Farm to Table on The Design Network about a young couple who are starting their own farm in Florida. I have followed Nina for a long time on Instagram because she offers lots of gardening inspiration as well as her Dirt Academy courses. I highly recommend this darling show and I cannot wait to see the season unfold.
Notice some recent changes around here?
We are in the process of rebranding the blog! For quite some time, I have known that Hasat Günü is a mouthful, especially for those not used to speaking Turkish. We shortened the name to 'Hasat,' meaning 'harvest' in Turkish. Our new website URL is www.hasatco.com and our Instagram handle is @hasatco. If you are already following or subscribed to the blog, you do not need to update or change anything about how you engage with this space. This is simply an update that changes are happening, new designs are coming and the creative energy is flowing! Stay tuned!