To me, pomegranates (Turkish nar) are a bit unsettling. Something about the way, when you cut one open, its brittle outsides crack like dry bones and the inner juices start to ooze out. Inside, the petite bulbous innards lay snugly against one another. As you pick them out, the juice stains your hands red and then dries into a sticky, sugary film on the palms and tips of the fingers. As you snack and munch, the organ-like seeds pop in your mouth, oozing and splattering red. I had never expected a fruit to make me feel so predatory, but that’s pomegranates for you.
Lately I have been thinking about the social qualities of foods. Besides pomegranates, whose meaty little segmented innards are eminently sharable, in southeast and eastern Turkey there are these delicious little green tangerines (Turkish mandalina) that grow and are sold ubiquitously. Tangerine trees line city boulevards, grow wild in forgotten parts of the old castle, and are cultivated in Turkish gardens and of course in farms in the koyler (villages). I adore mandalinas because they are intrinsically socially bonding–the skin peels open easily and cleanly, and then you can peel off slices of the tangerine and casually hand them to your friend. Your friend probably already has some of her own mandalinas, so she then peels one and hands you half of hers. It’s kind-of pointless from an instrumental point of view, but it’s a lovely ritual.
During the last half of high school and the first year college, I was a staunch vegetarian. My motivations were both environmental–it is a demonstrable fact that animal farms produce colossal amounts of waste, pollution, and energy consumption–and health-based.
Then, the summer after freshmen year of college, having been a veggie for some three years, I gave it up. In short, I realized that my principles and guilt trips were getting in the way of “being where I was.” When I had Thanksgiving dinner with my family, or ate a meal in rural Hungary, I couldn’t fully participate in those moments because I was partly absorbed with my own anxieties (Does this stuffing have any meat in it? How do you say “vegetarian” in Hungarian?). And, upon reflection, I realized that my dietary choices were creating inconveniences for the people who offered me food.
For this and other reasons, I gave up vegetarianism and regularly eat white meat (chicken, turkey, fish), although I still habitually avoid beef, pork. However, for the sake of “being where I am,” since being in Turkey I have eaten lahmacun (a thin minced-meat pizza), döner (lamb meat), ciğer kebap (fried animal liver), keçi (goat meat–slain, cut up, and shared with my by my Turkish instructor’s family during Kurban Bayramı), and ground meat (tacos my flatmate made for us after a Bayram-inspired shopping spree). Some of these dishes made me want to retch (goat meat is really, really tough and chewy), some I was ambivalent about, and some I adored (lahmacun eaten in Konya or anywhere in the East is effing delicious), and I am glad that I didn’t let my white-liberal cultural baggage get in the way of fully experiencing these moments.