A Turkish Slow Food group's tool for reading food labels. Photo by Jennifer Hattam.
If Istanbul shopkeepers notice a strange jump this week in the number of people moving slowly through their stores, peering closely at the cans and boxes and bottles on their shelves, it's thanks to the work of the "Label Detectives" of a local Slow Food convivium, who spent the day handing out mini-magnifying glasses before and after this week's packed screening of Food, Inc. at the !f International Independent Film Festival.Though things like organic food are not yet that well known in Turkey, a recent controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has brought new attention to the topic of what people put on their plates. While campaigning to ban GMOs, local Slow Food activist Defne Koryürek says, "we realized it is not only the GMOs that consumers need to be aware of, it's the whole line of production."
Looking at Labels
"People are feeling quite powerless against all the additives. They are scared; they don't know about them," Koryürek added. "Most food labels in Turkey are unreadable. In other countries, such as Germany, they make the print far bigger -- clearly people demanded that. We wanted to raise awareness that there is a list of ingredients on each and every product, that producers are trying to hide them, and that so many things we do not use in an ordinary kitchen are in these products."
The group Koryürek founded in 2002, Fikir Sahibi Damaklar (The Opinionated Palates) is working to promote that awareness from an early age. The Slow Food-affiliated organization runs a program for children, teaching them how to make bread and then taking them to the store to look for "real bread" containing only the natural ingredients they used at home. The Opinionated Palates are also gearing up to start a campaign to protect the bluefish (lüfer), a traditional Istanbul favorite that is facing extinction, and organizing more local screenings of Food, Inc., particularly in high schools.
Spending Money on 'Real Food'
Monday's screening at the !f Film Festival played to a full house, Koryürek said, adding that at least half of the audience stayed for a Q+A session with her about how to apply some of the information and solutions depicted in the film to their daily lives. Food producers in the audience joined in the discussion as well, with one saying, according to Koryürek, that "she thought was high time that the urbanized Istanbul people started thinking about the products and the producers and spend money on real food."
"The consumer needs to turn into a co-producer who makes producers make even better products," Koryürek added. "The less food we buy with additives, with no food value, the more better food we'll have placed on the shelves."
More about Slow Food:
A Fast Look at Slow Food: How to Eat Slower and Greener Every Day
Celebrate Slow Food's 20th Anniversary: December 10, 2009
Tableware for the Slow Food Movement: Plate Tells You When You Are Eating Too Fast
Terra Madre Day: Celebrating 20 Years of Slow Food Excellence
Slow Food Comes to the UK, Finally
Slow Food Founder Carlo Petrini On Local Eating
Slow Food Nation Event Addresses Healthy Food, Agriculture in San Francisco
Is Slow Food Movement a Contradiction in Terms?
Slow Food: Small, Simple, Sustainable