‘What is the hook?’ she said, ‘what is the story?’
As I tried to come up with a semi-intelligent answer for the grant officer at the NEH (National Endowment for the Arts), I realized I never thought of the project as a “story.” Well, this is not too surprising, as we are not in the business of storytelling in social science research. Usually we are trying to establish credibility and objectivity by establishing distance from our subjects, even as we criticize these methodologies. At most we try to conjure up titles to grab your attention in our articles or conference presentations.
But I strained to come up with a hook on the spot. Hmmm, wouldn’t I make a good story? Let’s consider the facts: I eat (a lot), I cook (a lot), I feed others (a lot), I think food, I watch food, and lately, I am also writing about food. Surely, something interesting can be cooked up. Right?
Right! Let’s begin:
Bridge as a metaphor seems to appear in my past when I was the founding chairperson for the Bosphorus Art Project during my graduate school years. There was resistance to using Bosphorus in our title and I believe I was insistent on using it. Some thought it would turn Americans off because it would be harder for them to pronounce it. Shouldn’t it roll off the tongue? At some point, I was also told to spell my last name as Kihlich to make it easy on Americans to pronounce. Did I do it? No! Is it easy for me to pronounce McConaughey? Hence Bosphorus stayed in the title, so did my desire to bridge cultural gaps by way of slight resistance and subversion.
Maybe there is something to this semi-obsession with Istanbul and the Bosphorus strait. The idea of being a bridge between Turkey and the USA, between my Turkish self, global self and American self, between my student self, migrant self and professional self appear frequently when I talk about or make food. Where is the story in that cliche you say?
Well, there was that time I realized that I do not just like cooking. No, I like cooking for people who like to eat it ; lots of it. Then I remember the time I revised this idea further: I cannot be friends with or date/marry anyone who does not enjoy foods of Turkey. Like the time P. had to go because he thought Turkish food was “colorful” while he pushed his food around the plate playing “I am too full to eat.” So when W. came along and said he can’t live without biber salçası (pepper paste) from Turkey even if we broke up, and asked for seconds of the Hünkar Beğendi, he got to stay.
I understand that there is no rhyme or reason to this logic, neither is it fair. But it is what it is. It is simply far too important for me to not honor it. So when you are new in my life, I will cook dishes from Turkey for you and watch you intently as you consume them; because the future of our relationship depends on your honest gut reaction.
There is also the peculiar thing that happened to me when I moved to the U.S. and became an “immigrant.” My national foods that I never ate before started appearing on my table. I was always cooking Turkish food for my guests. It was as if I became more Turkish at the table. I couldn’t understand it, but it was a visceral and purely emotional reaction.
Then I moved to Alaska, from Arizona (only 3,600 miles apart!). The cold and dark slapped me across the face like you wouldn’t believe. Good luck finding a juicy tomato in that climate! Inevitably I started thinking about the way one should cook in a climate like that.
So you see, my im/migrant story has food at its core even tough it wasn’t something I scrutinized. It was always there making things better, warmer, friendlier, grounding me in an unfamiliar environment through a familiar language. It was building bridges between myself and my new home. Could I take my
deeply personal story and apply academic curiosity about food to it? What would a hybrid personal/academic project yield? Would it be too boringly conceptual for the general audiences and yet too light of a content for academic audiences? You are not sure about this? Well I am not either but here I go, dragging my soul, my history, in a metaphorical Uhaul of a movie…
***(Holdsworth & Robinson 2008). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01102.x/full