“I don’t believe in nations, I believe in geography”

IMG_0283Today we headed to SALT Beyoğlu, a beautiful and contemporary art center in Taksim, İstanbul. We journeyed up to the top floor and entered into a serene and lush greenhouse. Who knew that such a place could exist directly above the chaotic foot traffic of İstiklal Street! We were greeted by Defne Koryürek who runs a Slow Food convivium in İstanbul. Slow Food is an international movement whose mission is to counteract the dependence on fast food and to bring awareness to local, clean, and fair food practices. After introducing herself, she explained that Slow Food was a “movement” rather than an organization, because there is no hierarchy and people are able to work autonomously on local initiatives. To her, a bottom-up approach is highly important for addressing social changes, especially those that relate to the environment. One of her convivium’s main initiatives has been to bring awareness to the overfishing of lüfer (bluefish) in the Bosphorus.

Defne told us, “I don’t believe in nations, I believe in geography.” I found this to be an interesting comment because when thinking about global spaces, I naturally organize them by nation. When looking at a social problem such as the depletion of lüfer, the issue involves a specific community made up of people from different countries. While the community may involve many Turkish people living in İstanbul, the problem is not very related to people living in other parts of Turkey. While I think that nations are important for generally organizing geographic spaces, Defne allowed me to question whether we sometimes view these borders too literally. These abstract lines become so ingrained into the process of dealing with issues, that it is often difficult to take a step back and think reflexivity about the system itself. This reflexive thinking is very important for social innovation because it allows an individual to think critically about what is in place and how it can be modified.

Defne mentioned that bottom-up and small-scale approaches are particularly important for Turkey. She explained that, to her, “Turkey is still a third world country” because rules are not followed, and thus changing them does not matter. I found this to be an interesting remark. Regardless of whether this is true or not, it has influenced the way what Defne has addressed the lüfer. Her convivium established a lüfer festival, which entailed a fishing competition to see who could catch the biggest lüfer. She explained that an event like this, engages the community and spreads awareness about the proper keeping sizes for the fish. Attendees are able to celebrate the cultural significance of lüfer and develop a personal connection to fishing regulations. When addressing social problems, change makers must understand the cultural context of the space with which they are working. If Defne focused on addressing this issue through solely government policy, she would be ignoring the cultural norm of rule ignorance, which she feels exists. Defne’s unique perspective was very thought provoking for all of us. Her ideas reminded me of the importance of reflexive thinking for social innovation.

Cansu generously invited us to her house for dinner tonight. We took the ferry over to the Asian side and had a wonderful dinner with Cansu’s mother and sister. We all enjoyed hearing about her family history while eating delicious food!

Leave a Reply