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Popular and Intellectual Approaches to Food as Social and Political Critique in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire
This paper traces popular and intellectual approaches to the access and consumption of food in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Focusing on three aspects of early modern diet; bread, meat, and wine, it compares dietary differences as well as reactions to these differences among various groups in the Ottoman Empire. Doing so, this paper brings together uncustomary sources such as travel accounts, scientific treatises, court registers, and poems, and calls to study food history as a social and political critique in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Bread, or any sort of grain, makes up the basis for human diet, and at the same time, its consumption is most indicative of social stratification. The early modern Ottoman society was no exception. While bread constituted the main staple in all households, its variety as well as ratio pointed to social status. While Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (d.1730) provides a foreign perspective onto the consumption of bread among the elite and the military, Evliya Çelebi’s (d.1682) Seyahatname illuminates the role of bread in various part of the Ottoman Empire. The access and quality of bread provide a significant look into popular expressions of critical attitudes towards the Ottoman regime. Meat is yet another most critical element of consumption. The elite consumption of game went hand in hand with the basic and typical consumption sheep. This, of course, calls for distinguishing hunting as an elite activity, practiced in the imperial court. The elite interest in hunting, as a free time sport, contrasts with herding as an essential human necessity. Thus, the contrasts between herding sheep or hunting game parallel the dietary difference between the consumption of sheep or game. Wine constitutes yet another aspect of elite consumption, especially in the Ottoman Empire, where it is a “forbidden pleasure” as indicated by Priscella Mary Işın. Poems offer more as to the extent and practice of wine consumption among various classes. For the elite wine consumption, miniatures and paintings provide us with an illustrative tool to contextualize the place of wine in the early modern imperial setting, demonstrating the differences among various groups in the Ottoman Empire not only in consumption, but also in the transparency of consumption.
Geographic Area
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area
13th-18th Centuries