From Ayran to Dragon Fruit Smoothie: Populism, Polarization and Social Engineering in Turkey
Food embedded with symbolic meaning has power in politics. Food as political communication is extensively studied as a nation branding and public diplomacy tool. However, academic studies seem to overlook the role that food plays in populism and political polarization. Pointing out a gap in the field, I explore the role of culinary culture in Turkish politics between 2013 and 2019 to demonstrate its polarizing effect and its role in social engineering. I argue that social engineering as part of constructing native/national culinary items, efforts to polarize people through an AKP-sanctioned culinary tradition, and the particulars of the palace menu, are at once contradictory and consistent. Despite government efforts to appeal to average people and to polarize the public both by replacing alcohol with native/national and familiar ayran and grape juice, and by distributing aşure to the people, branded with the symbol of the presidency, the palace kitchen has also invoked the neo-Ottoman exotic by serving dragon fruit smoothie and chia seeds.