New Food as Urban Agent

How Food Movements Are Driving Regional Visions for Social Change


Saturday February 4 2017

Citizen-driven reforms in food systems are making their urban imprint across the world, in environments as diverse as restaurants in Brooklyn, river valleys in rural Colombia, the urban gardens of Istanbul, or the farmers market of Beirut. While culinary innovations are driven by ever-refining cosmopolitan trends, food is also emerging as a medium of reclamation – of land, knowledge, tradition, and society – in neighborhoods, regions, and populations riddled by inequality and conflict. Rethinking food production and distribution networks may help narrow gaps in urban food supplies and spawn new forms of communality across urban/rural, social, and ethnic divides. New Food as Urban Agent is a one-day conference bringing together chefs, entrepreneurs, farmers, activists, and scholars to shed light on food movements that are reshaping urban life.


Welcome and opening remarks

Case 1 – Lettuce or Rubble?: Yedikule Urban Gardens
Defne Koryürek (chef, Dükkan and Refika, Istanbul) and Ali Taptik (Slow Food, Istanbul); moderated by Aslihan Demirtas (Kadir Has University)

Case 2 – Cultural Memory, Fine Cuisine, and Agricultural Reform in and around Bogotá
Leonor Espinosa (chef, Leo Cocina y Cava, Bogotá) and Laura Espinosa-Hernandez (Fundación FUNLEO, Bogotá), moderated by Victoria Sanford (CUNY)

Panel 1 – Elaboration of Social Vision through Farming
Kamal Mouzawak (founder, Souk el-Tayeb, and chef, Tawlet, Beirut), Kolu Zigbi (Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, New York), and Lindsey Lusher Shute (National Young Farmers Coalition); moderated by Heather Paxson (MIT) 

Panel 2 – Eating as Critical Practice

Cathrine Kramer and Zack Denfeld (The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Dublin), Angela Hirst (Wandering Cooks, Brisbane), and Carlo Mirarchi (chef, Roberta’s and Blanca, Brooklyn); moderated by David Wondrich (cocktail historian)

Closing Roundtable – New Food as Urban Agent
Aslihan Demirtas (Kadir Has University)Victoria Sanford (CUNY), Heather Paxson (MIT), David Wondrich (cocktail historian), and Emmanuel Pratt (Sweet Water Foundation, Chicago); moderated by Erik Martin Ghenoiu (Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative)

Excerpts from the program:

10:30-11:45 Case 1: Lettuce or Rubble? Yedikule Urban Gardens

Yedikule Bostans (bostan in Turkish is urban vegetable garden) in Istanbul is an urban agricultural landscape producing vegetables since 422 CE, as mentioned in an edict in the Theodosian Code. (Ricci, A) These historic gardens are the forerunners of contemporary urban agriculture dating back to the building of the Theodosian Walls. Practiced as bostancılık (urban agriculture) by the bostancı (urban gardener) it is a particular form of agriculture that has produced its own techniques of cultivating small lots of land, shaped as particular labyrinths of irrigation with a quick turnaround produce variety.

A major blow was delivered to this already fragmented landscape and its cultivators in June 2013, the municipality dumped rubble over blooming bostans with intentions to build a park. This act of violence ignited protests, conflicts, negotiations and the formation of an activist initiative (The Initiative for the Protection of Historic Yedikule Gardens) united to protect and revive the buried bostans.

Yedikule is a complex and complicated case where the urban/agricultural, public space/private space, heritage/development dichotomies are blurred; intentions, desires and power relationships of different communities and interest groups conflict; politics and history converge over a landscape of over 1500 years.

12:00-1:15 Case 2: Cultural Memory, Fine Cuisine, and Agricultural Reform in and around Bogotá

Leonor Espinosa is the owner of the restaurant Leo Cocina y Cava, widely considered to be one of the best in Latin America. Her “Cycle/Biome” menu constitutes a sophisticated engagement with farming practices, climate, ecology, and regional culinary history. Her Fundación FUNLEO “aims to identify, reclaim, and enhance the gastronomic traditions of Colombian communities– from its biological, cultural, and intangible heritage, tending to welfare, health, and nutrition.” Her daughter Laura Hérnandez-Espinosa, sommelier, is deeply involved in managing and framing the mission and intellectual content of her restaurant and foundation.

2:00–2:20 Make Food, Not War: Agriculture, Food, People, and Human Development in Beirut and Lebanon

Kamal Mouzawak will present a farmers market initiative that he initiated, and that within a brief period developed into a myriad different projects: a community kitchen, communal homes of tradition, regional food festivals, and capacity-building programs to empower farmers, producers and cooks, gather people around a common identity through farming and cuisine and link production to consumption, rural to urban milieus. Mouzawak is the founder of Souk el-Tayeb – Beirut’s first farmers’ market, Tawlet – a restaurant chain promoting the diversity of Lebanese food traditions, sourced from sustainable local farms and prepared by local cooks according to local recipes, and Beit Loubnan – communal centers for culinary practice in rural communities across Lebanon, dedicated to the revival of disappearing traditions. He was the recipient of The Netherlands’ Prince Claus Award 2016 for outstanding achievement in the field of culture and development.

2:20–2:40 Black-Led Urban Agriculture Projects in the USA

In September, Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016. The next month, leaders at the annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners conference analyzed the bill and made a wish list of additions, even as some urban farmers expressed skepticism that USDA funds would ever truly benefit their work. Leaders in Black neighborhoods throughout the country seize vacant land for urban agriculture projects with an ethos of Black land and liberation grounded in self-determination. They create green space and grow food, as well as create a wide range of social, educational, health, workforce, and civic benefits, often attracting higher income residents with the financial resources to choose where to live. The Black land ethos gives way to gentrification.  How can this force be countered, mitigated or even harnessed? Kolu Zigbi, Program Director for sustainable agriculture and food systems and Eat4Health Initiative at Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation in New York, will showcase video and photography from Black-led urban agriculture projects in three different cities, and discuss ways they conceptualize and engage this dialectic.

3:45–4:05 Re-Wiring Taste & Place: Bioregional Food Futures & Recombinatorial Cuisine 

People, organisms, and ingredients are on the move. Immigrants and refugees arrive. Climates change and preferences shift. Regional cuisines are important, but should not be frozen in time or made pure. Articulating a more just, biodiverse, and beautiful food system will require imagination, acceptance of change and ensuring that taste matters. In this talk The Center for Genomic Gastronomy will present some of their recent work related to the taste of place, including recombinatorial cuisine and bite-sized bioregionalism, Smog Tasting, and Planetary Sculpture Supper clubs.

Full program will be published shortly.

Free and open to the public

Sponsored by: Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative with support from the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard Graduate School of Design and Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums, Menschel Hall 32 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138 Map