Food Activist by Night – Tailor and Puppeteer by Day

If you make the climb up to the fourth floor of famous art gallery SALT Beyoğlu you will find a beautiful roof top garden with a variety of organic vegetables, herbs and plants. Ayşenur Arslanoğlu is a self proclaimed Food Activist and member of the Slow Food Youth Network Istanbul. The Slow Food movement is a global movement and has a philosophy that lends itself to three core values.

“Good, Clean and Fair.”

The garden has a very organic vibe and is more cosy than grand. A wooden plaque, nailed to a supporting beam, will tell you that the garden was originally created in 2011 by American artist Fritz Haeg. The space was constructed from the remaining building materials left over from the renovation of the SALT building. Cabbages, kale and broccoli sprouts are encased in old timber beam beds; bright red chillies drape over the sides, plant pots sit on recycled cable reel tables,  green beans hang from the ceiling – the result is a tactile environment that encourages its visitors to feel comfortable and welcome.

“… an evolving , experimental, edible garden environment.”

The collective hosts numerous events. Every second Sunday the group organise breakfast workshops. People are encouraged to make their own slow food for these events and to share what they bring. Naturally they eat the food, which last time consisted of sourdough pancakes, lavender cookies and chillies in olive oil – but discussion about food culture is also on the menu. P1090682

“As a species, homo sapiens sapiens – we have grown further and further from our roots. The Slow Food Movements is about reconnecting with the basics. Understanding where our food comes from, how to grow it, how to prepare it and to consider our ethical responsibility… is what we promote here.”

By day Ayşenur is actually a freelance tailor, creating costumes for theatre – she is also a puppet maker – but she is dedicated to the Slow Movement. ‘Food Activist’ might sound a bit aggressive to some people, but Ayşenur comes across as passionate, motivated, enthusiastic and realistic at the same time.

“As an activist I have been trying to live by the principals of Good, Clean and Fair for the last four years..  trying to practice these things… from my diet to my political decisions, all my actions – I can’t say that I’m 100%, I’m not perfect, but I do try and I fight for it.” P1090631

As the name suggests the Slow Food Youth Network has an emphasis on young people. Ayşenur explains how the movement originated from a group of young people having the passion and drive to do things differently, to look at food production and consumption from a sustainability point of view.

“Young people care about the future. We are not happy today, we regret all the things we have lost. And I think people can be lonely amongst all the technology. We are seeking for a truth. And these journeys need a community.”

P1090665 Communication is a key aim. Ayşenur wants to educate people but is also learning about going back to basics herself. She points out an empty patch of earth where a big batch of healthy cucumbers recently shrivelled and died – no-one knows exactly why.

“Gardening and all the basics are so important, but the network allows you to have conversations, to swap ideas and recipes – it’s so important to the process. Sourdough starter, yeast, fermentation, other techniques like preserving – we learn through the process. Communicate and then bring it to the next level.”

There are signs that similar ideas to the Slow Food Movement are gaining more momentum in Istanbul and Turkey. Ayşenur can count ten people, she met in the previous year, who have moved from Istanbul to the Aegean Coast. These people are part of a growing trend of Turkish city dwellers who have opted for a rural life where they grow their own vegetables and live in nature. A variety of restaurants are opting for ethical, local and organic food. Chef Maksut Aşkar from Neolokal is often involved with the Slow Food Youth Network events and he is a vocal advocate of the importance of local food in his own restaurant. A project called Planet is also beginning to compile a database of venues in Istanbul that adhere to more ethical food practices. However, as Ayşenur points out, that database needs regular controls and monitoring to become a trustworthy reference point. Glancing around, it is obvious there is still room to grow more vegetables in the garden. You get a sense that this is the beginning of an exciting journey. In the future Ayşenur hopes that the movement will grow and that the key values will trickle through from food to an ideology that promotes a better, more ethical way of living in all aspects of life. For Ayşenur the pace of change is still, perhaps ironically, too slow. However, her tone is optimistic. Ayşenur Arslanoğlu looks forward to a time when she is no longer a Food Activist because Slow Food is simply part of the daily norm.

“The Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) is an international network of young people who bring about changes in the field of food production and consumption. It was founded by a number of enthusiastic and motivated young people with a passion for good, clean and fair food, and with an interest in sustainability issues.”

If you would like to visit the garden or are interested in finding out more about the Slow Food Movement in Istanbul and beyond, please follow these links. Facebook – Slow Food Youth Network Twitter – Slow Food Youth Network Global Slow Food Youth Network


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