At the Turkish Table: Food Activism and Interfaith Bridge Building in Houston, Texas

By Maria Curtis.

Published by Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper examines the ways in which Turkish American women build community through food practices in Houston, Texas. Since 9/11, American Muslim communities have generally adopted a wide diversity of interfaith outreach programs that seek to dispel negative stereotypes about Muslims. While Americans are in dialogue about national security issues, Turkish Americans create their own sense of security through interfaith community building with activities that mirror food activism. Turkish Americans in particular have initiated citywide interfaith days in a number of cities where food has played a central role in neighborhood interfaith gatherings. In Houston, Texas, Turkish Americans organize Turkish-Turkic celebrations that feature food from all regions of Turkey and central Asia that take place on the grounds of city hall. They also prepare and distribute Noah’s Pudding (Asure) to their American neighbors in commemoration of the Prophet Noah as a reminder that Islam shares core Judeo-Christian beliefs and values. They also offer cooking classes for the general American public and host a yearly Abrahamic Faiths Dinner where Jews, Christians, and Muslims remember their faiths’ commonalities. During the month of Ramadan, families seek to invite the greatest number of guests for the evening fast breaking meal, iftar. Those who invite the greatest number of guests for iftar receive community recognition and praise, and are considered a model for the rest of the Turkish American community. Turkish Americans patronize a number of specialty halal markets or markets that observe Islamic principles for preparing meat, as well as bring numerous select food items back from Turkey. Through interfaith community building initiatives, Turkish Americans contribute to the diversification of foodways in the American tapestry. This intense food and hospitality driven community building brings diverse people to the Turkish table and opens paths for dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Keywords: Immigrant Women, Food and Festivals, 9/11, American Muslims, Turkish Americans, Interfaith Dialogue

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.43-59. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 497.467KB).

Dr. Maria Curtis

Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Cross-cultural Studies, School of Human Sciences and Humanities, University of Houston - Clear Lake, Houston, Texas, USA

I have been interested in festivals of one sort or another since 1997 in fieldwork in both Morocco, Turkey, and among American Muslims. I focus on the work that women in particular do to build community through ritual, and most often food plays an important role. I have been conducting research among Turkish Americans since 1998 and am currently working on a broader project that examines immigrant foodways in Houston, which I hope to publish as a co-edited volume of food and community narratives. I taught a course in the spring of 2012 on food and culture among Turks and central Asians, and organized home visits for all my students. The end result of our class project was a class cookbook that included food narratives. Food for me as a teacher is an important means by which to teach students about the diversity they encounter in their day-to-day lives.