Meet Mehmet: Foraging, slow food & sharing from a mountainside // Cyprus

 

Those are carob pods between Mehmets hands.

Four seeds from the pods found on the carob tree, of which one ancient one stands among Mehmets olive grove, is equal to one carat. Those seeds define an age-old way of measuring and establishing the value of precious stones and metals. That pod contains a sweet elixir too- it ups the blood count and goes gloriously well in a traditional cake (which I can vouch is made excellently by Mehmets mother)...

Mehmet is full of these nature infused gems- a natural byproduct of a childhood spent foraging with his grandfather on a mountainside in Cyprus where I was lucky to spend a few sweet days recently.

Mehmet: I learned not only from my grandfather but my uncle, my mother- everybody. You know the circumstances- when the rain and when the sun comes out, the mushrooms come out and you know the time and you go and get it. This is the way it is here, everyone does the same. I’m sure they used to do similar things in Europe but we are now developing un-carefully and that culture is nearly disappearing.

When I was 10, every 2 or 3 days the tomatoes and things used to change in the grocery store because they started to get rotten. Now, you’ve seen it, its about minimum of 6-9 days. They just stay as it is- harder. You need to cheat to keep your products long time available and that can only happen with chemicals.

We are creating nature.

We don’t know yet what we are doing but I am sure nature will show us what we have to do. If we act in a good way we can carry on and do the same but the minute we are making big mistakes nature will tell us again that we are doing wrong.

You see, the minute we are realising we are part of nature we act much more carefully. When we think we are not part of it, we destroy it. If we realise we are destroying it, we stop destroying it. We are not just destroying the environment we are destroying our future.

Rachel: You said that it is important to preserve traditions. Why do you think it is important to do slow food? To collect and grow food and not live off fast food like those in the town?

Mehmet: Slow food is important for our health- that’s the very very first reason. But the second reason is that it gives you so much evidence about people's lifestyle- it’s part of the culture. When you have traditional food, you understand (if you want to understand the peoples lifestyle). Fast food is very international but if you want to see a different kind of thing you will see that people have connection with nature- that they do this to not only feed themselves but to enjoy different tastes.

Rachel: Mezze is a way of doing food that is long and drawn out with people sharing at its centre. Do you think there is something special in the way you do food?

Mehmet: Again we have to go deep to understand... the people that were here on this mountainside were farmers mainly.

We have got a very big saying in Turkish, ‘one hand have nothing but two hands can clap.’ They [the farmers] used to come together and do their farming job all together and then eat together. Every one of them bought some small things from their home. That’s why mezze has lots of different foods. They used to share food but at the same time they used to share their life. It’s part of the communal life to share and that's one of the keystones of their life and now we try to bring that back.

This mezze cultural thing is a kind of energy or connection because from one small plate 6,7,8,9,10,11  people share the same plate, giving and taking- having connection. In Europe you go have your plate of food and you are that much individual that people keep their plate in front of themselves and don’t even want people to taste- that’s the difference.

The lifestyle here is to share.

Rachel: Tell me more about people being connected to the environment, to the land and to our food

Mehmet: The most important thing people have to realise is that they can’t survive without connecting to the environment. The environment is like gravity- whatever they say, they can’t go away from it. We live on planet earth and it’s our environment, how they can deny they are not connected with it! Everything comes from nature- even all these plastic or chemical stuff, they first come out from nature. As I say, as much as we take we have to give- so many people will not agree with us because they still have things to gain from nature. But when they have nothing to give and nature’s going to ask, they are going to understand...