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Reclaiming Our Home

Istanbul needs a new food system where technology, tradition and coexistence are key aspects

Photo of Buket Soyyılmaz
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Slow Food Slow Food Turkey branch (Fikir Sahibi Damaklar)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Slow Food Turkey branch (Fikir Sahibi Damaklar) Technical University of Denmark

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?


What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I was born and raised in Istanbul which carries an immense history of multi-ethnic food traditions handed over for centuries. Istanbul is home of many religions and communities therefore many food cultures that cohabit and influence each other. The city is facing extreme industrialization thus needs a proper food system envisioning. Meanwhile centuries old food traditions are lost to an unhealthy diet. Although the city is increasingly industrialized, authorities do not use technology in favor of a sustainable food system. Instead getting largely dependent on imported goods and pesticides are being used over the set limits, and people are not informed well about the impact of their food decisions. 

I've lived in Italy and Denmark which had many points in their food system that inspired me to incorporate them into Istanbul to make it more sustainable, aesthetic and community-based. So, I chose Istanbul because it needs a proper visioning of its food system for the following reasons: 1) overuse of carcinogenic pesticides, 2) extinction of local fish species in the Bosphorus, 3) lack of knowledge on local food traditions at a public level, 4) dependence on imported goods instead of locally produced food. 

My vision relates to Istanbul having an independent food system based on locality, community, protection of ecosystems, science and technology. The integration of a trusted and diligent regulatory framework is imperative considering that in a recent study it has been found that pesticides have been used over the maximum residue levels (MRL) in highly consumed crops. This problem in particular is an alarming state for Istanbul's food system meanwhile the Ministry of Health is not active regarding the issue of overuse of pesticides. In fact, The Ministry of Health has been seeking the prosecution of the food scientist who communicated the evidence regarding overuse of pesticides. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The city is located in between the European and Asia, divided by the Bosphorus which connects Black Sea to Marmara and Aegean. A nickname given to Istanbul is Seven Hills so, while strolling around on foot you will definitely walk lots of hills up and down. Istanbul experiences four climates equally while spring may be the best time to see the city. Over centuries it was inhabited by various groups including Christians, Jews, Armenians, Muslims, etc. so it holds an incredibly synergistic food culture. Currently, it is still multi-ethnic but less than before, many Syrian refugees are living there as well.

A single huge impact to the food culture has been the proliferation of capitalism and heavy industrialism. Following 1950s the population went from 1 million to 15 million today. Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world and it has many layers, so it is so hard to generalize any sociocultural facts. Each neighborhood has its own idiosyncrasies. Major fraction of the public base their diets on animal products and bread. Further, street food and farmers' markets can be found in almost every neighborhood. Interestingly, the main diet of the citizens used to be based heavily on vegetables and fish, although today you can see meat and döner everywhere.

Istanbulites are very outgoing people and very influenced by Western and American popular cultures. For instance, the "third wave coffee" hype influenced Istanbul a great deal, nowadays third wave style coffee shops are literally in every corner of town.

The rural towns Gümüşdere and Silivri have a lot of agricultural land. Dominant crops are wheat, beans, rice, sunflowers, barley, oats, maize, chickpeas, sugarcane. However, the young population is heavily dependent on fast food which overall affects health negatively. Moreover, heavy reliance on motor vehicle also leads to young populations exercising less. The single biggest worry of the people is the difficulty of getting by. The economy overall is not great, so when people are challenged for their food choices they usually complain about the high prices of organic food.

The single-most important feature of Istanbul is its multi-ethnicity. There is an incredible repertoire of multi-ethnic recipes and traditions which are currently not practiced (recipes of dishes with influence from Armenian, Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Russians, etc). Instead, cheap and low quality fast-food chains, burger houses, steakhouses, street food and döner shops dominate the food scene.

Although there are of course exceptions; several great restaurants have opened which reflect Anatolian food traditions. Just recently, the first local and natural wine bar opened. That said, even though along the Thrace there has been viticulture for centuries, people only know about French grapes and local endemic grape varieties are under-looked. So, it is great that this new local wine bar only and exclusively sells wine from local grape varieties.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Currently, the city has an unbearable population which leads to pollution and an unsustainable food system. Another challenge is the lack of proper food education, so people do not know the food traditions and problems related to the food industry. Also, the Bosphorus has lost many sea animals which used to be common parts of Istanbulites' diets. For instance the bluefish is nearly extinct due to overfishing by uncontrolled thrawling boats fishing illegally over night. There were many campaigns for this but it did not help much to save this species. 

Challenges 2020: overpopulation, heavy industrialization, loss of food culture, lack of regulatory framework for public safety (e. g. pesticides), lack of urban farming practices, lack of food policy making, lack of food education, lack of farmer subsidies, diet heavily dependent on meat.

By 2050, it's imperative that policymakers in Istanbul (municipality and ministries) work together to integrate ancient farming methods with technologies like urban farming, sustainable irrigation technologies, vertical farming, agro-ecology, permaculture, etc and promote a more plant-based and local diet to its citizens. If the city does not adopt sustainable food production methods, it is likely that it will stay dependent on imports which will impact the economy negatively. Also, a diet heavily dependent on meat and crops with pesticides will impact public health negatively. 

Challenges 2050: growing population, import dependency, lack of community in relation to food, increasing diseases due to bad nutrition and heavy pesticide use, farmers unable to make a living, further extinction of endemic plants and animals. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

So what to do to help overcome these challenges? Organizations, education bodies, ministries and institutions must collaborate. Easier said than done, but it's possible. 

- Overall Istanbul is overpopulated. This issue must be addressed. The population must be controlled otherwise there is no cure for a sustainable food system. Ministry of Urban Planning could limit the number of people living in each neighborhood and plan a population decrease by 2050. 

- Ministry of Health must inspect the case with the overuse of pesticides and adopt EU-level, even Denmark-level regulatory framework (thus, set MRL levels and strictly follow them). 

- Ministry of Food and Agriculture must support local production, not only of crops also of local animal breeds (adoption of EU-level trademark practices such as PDO and IGP).

- Ministry of Education must ensure to transfer knowledge on pesticide use, local crops and animals, PDO, etc. to the education system. Government must support this financially. 

- Public must be communicated well on these issues with the help of social media, influencers, and other public figures. 

- Technical universities must be supported financially where engineers or engineering students develop concepts for sustainable agriculture in Istanbul. With efficient urban farming Istanbul has the fertile land to sustain in a neighborhood-centralized manner. 

- Neighborhoods must work together to support the community aspect and eat as local as possible. 

- There must be strict inspection of overfishing and pollution in the Bosphorus. 

- Taxation of use of plastic bottles and bags to protect the pollution. 

- The citizens are heavily influenced by public figures so it is imperative that popular figures influence the public on the mentioned issues. 

- Food networks in each neighborhood can be set up and collaborate with local schools for increased food education in the city. 

- Of course, governmental bodies must invest and prioritize a self-reliant food system instead of investing in construction and industrialization. 

- Municipality of Istanbul should collaborate with Municipality of Copenhagen to adopt some of their practices which make the city more sustainable. 

- Assuming that urban and vertical farms will be incorporated Ministry of Urban Planning should be involved in an urban regeneration program to make the city more green and self-reliant. 

- Within the city surroundings, Itmm would ban large-scale industrial animal agriculture because it not only contributes to greenhouse gas emissions it is also violating human and animal rights. 

- Food waste from local food businesses go directly to stray animals. Some businesses already do that but most just throw out their leftover food. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Overall, I envision Istanbul becoming less chaotic with more natural areas and urban farms which provide the city. The city will be different with a food system where the food supply chain is shortened - so that local production supports the citizens as much as possible. 

If the above-mentioned authorities work diligently, Istanbul citizens would change their lifestyles and food habits by 2050. I can imagine a food system where urban farming and vertical farms all around the city provides to the neighborhoods while rural areas provide sustainable and ethical dairy and meat. For example, I live in a neighborhood and my neighborhood now has several urban gardens. Through an online system, each week I can make an order to buy a weekly box of locally grown vegetables and pay online which directly goes to the farmers and delivery. Again, similarly, I can order weekly meat and cheese from the farmers of Gümüşdere through an online system. Supermarkets can also buy directly from the urban gardens. 

The iconic Bosphorus would be much cleaner and richer in species. Maybe after years people would be able to swim in it. Restaurants and local food businesses now compost their food waste and transfer it to fertilize the urban garden soils. Since Istanbul has many stray cats and dogs, restaurants make sure to separate food waste for the stray animals as well. 

With the vision taking its life, the city will breathe: less population, more community, more gardens and fruit trees, cleaner spaces, less food waste, strict control of pesticide use, more cultivation, less concrete constructions, more technology invested for a sustainable and communal food system. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

My vision combines love of nature, respect for history and tradition, and passion for technology in a geography that needs it profoundly. 

The vision addresses Environment because it aims to cut unnecessary steps from the food supply chain and lower carbon emissions through promoting local food consumption habits. It addresses better Diets of its citizens by spreading awareness on pesticides' health impacts and promoting local and organic consumption. Also, the Economics is positively influenced since local farmers' shares are emphasized and dependency to imports will be lowered, which will overall benefit the economy. The Culture aspect is reinforced through the emphasis on the lost multi-ethnic roots of Istanbul's cuisine. Technology aspect is inevitable since globally we are leading to digitalized systems and food systems must take advantage of technological innovations both in the production of food (e. g. adoption of high tech vertical farms) and consumption (use of IT-supported platforms to make orders and pay for groceries directly). Policies are fundamental for effectively having this vision in place; pesticide use, population control, urban regeneration activities all rely on policymaking. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Instagram


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jun Suto

hi Buket Soyyılmaz  thank you for sharing your thoughts & vision! I've been to Istanbul only once, and I loved it!!! I loved how you emphasized government involvement and education.

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