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Our new food & design research collection. Here we will feature articles about design thinking and processes, food (of course), but more specifically food culture, cook book reviews, food and design trends and much more...

Redefining storytelling, by Cemre Deniz Kara

Cemre, left

“Tell me and I will forget.

Show me, and I may remember.

Involve me, and I will understand.”

Chinese Proverb

On the 26th of May, 2018 in collaboration with Ya Laziz, Fil Mis human rights organisations based in The Hague, we produced a lunch event that was guided through stories and storytellers in an open environment, aiming to bring people together and provide a space for discussion.

Our lunch event was called “Redefining Stories”, which was an eating experience guided through various different stories of ‘coming to and/or living in the Netherlands’. The storytellers were from various backgrounds and ethnicities living in the Netherlands.

Could food, in connection with authentic stories, play a role in an integration process that requires mutual understanding and respect?

The starting point of my art project, Redefining Stories, was my preoccupation with the themes of migration and minorities. I was interested in researching the politics of food, fusion food culture, and history of fusion cuisine in the Netherlands, where I am currently based.

Originally from Istanbul, I have been living in The Hague for the past three and a half years studying at the Art and Science Department of the Royal Academy of Art.

The common element that connects my work is a reflection of social/political topics through a storytelling and the exploration of different narrative techniques.

Coming from a Turkish background, I was surprised by the size of the Turkish population living in The Hague and how they are more and more in tune with Dutch culture as well as the new cultural aspects they imported into Dutch society from their own culture. The one thing that intrigued me most about the Netherlands is the diversity of cultures, despite the size of the country. There is no denial that multicultural environment prevails in the Netherlands. From my perspective this diversity can bring many benefits to the people and create a new mind set that will enable the population to communicate better among between cultural divides and learn more from each other.

A very good example for the influence of diversity on local culture is the food culture, which can easily be experienced by walking around the city of The Hague, where we encounter different types of foods and restaurants. Clearly food cultures of the different cuisines are very much integrated into the gastronomical landscape.

As a matter of fact, a number of individual restaurants or chains write the names of the dishes in their own languages and do not feel the need to translate them. Additionally, we must not forget, that the fusion food culture of the Netherlands is not only due to recent migration, but also due to the colonial past of the country, bringing back a variety of spices and food cultures from the colonies.

On the other hand, there is still a struggle for different minority groups to become better integrated within Dutch culture. The Netherlands - historically a pluralist nation - has been struggling to incorporate ethnic minorities into Dutch society over recent decades.

In the twenty-first century, The Netherlands and many more countries went into an era of migration, globalization and a growing uncertainty about national identity. The meaning of Cultural Diversity redefined itself as a “clash of civilizations” in the political discourse. Religion and cultural obstacles shape modern politics in order to divide the groups of people into ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Perhaps disassociation of different minorities from each other and a lack of knowledge about the other is a reason for the barriers found between different communities inhabiting the same city. Unfortunately this is also one of the taboo topics of our society.

Do we deny different cultures but accept their food?

Mankind has always been curious to taste of different things, and is always searching for a better taste. Through the history of colonization Europe adopted and has been influenced by the cultures they have colonized. In later decades, starting from mid 20th century, immigration to Europe created a new era in Netherlands. Slowly a shift occurred towards a fusion of cultures, while food culture specifically became the fastest one to grow. A new era of new comers, opening restaurants, food locations, deli’s… The interest in different taste experiences and the curiosity about spices made it clear, that the change was stable and had long lasting effects on the cultures.

And what about the people who make the food?

This question led me to research the reality on the ground deeper. I spent sometime talking with owners of a variety of ethnic restaurants in the Hague, some of them already born here and others who have emigrated here 10 - 20 years ago, in search of work and better living standards. Ofcourse the next generations due tend to have less conflict as the first comers, which also because of them being born in that society. However the struggle of acceptance as citizens is still tremendously difficult.

Individual stories can be representative of an entire group, connect us with different communities and increase our understanding and empathy. Therefore, creating a platform for individual stories to be told, seemed necessary.

The structure of a society has been closely correlated with the nature of status foods. Claude Levi-Stauss, the Belgian-French anthropologist, analyzed food as a language that expresses social structures and cultural systems.

‘Food can be used to mark and create relations of equality, intimacy or solidarity or, instead, to uphold relations signaling rank, distance or segmentation. This can be illustrated by looking at the use of food to communicate different types of class through consumption’.

Arjun Appadurai

With my project partners Ya Laziz, which is a human rights organization, currently working in the Netherlands, we decided to create an open lunch session asking the question: Do we not tolerate certain cultures but are willing to accept their food?

We focused on the cultural aspects of food, tradition and transformation due to migration, as well as the psychological aspects relating to emotional transformations and reactions due to specific incidents, changes in one’s living environment, or migration. The lunch was an open gathering for anyone who wanted to participate.

The meal consisted of three dishes, which were created together with the storytellers. All storytellers cooked one dish from their own traditional cuisine. An environment was created according to their customs of dining, corresponding to their cultural etiquette.

From this perspective the multi-cultural lunch created an environment for the story telling aspects of the project. The food (flavours, odours, colours) in combination with the atmosphere (music and sound, decoration) and the cultural contexts influenced the audience’s perception of the event.

The Dinner Table concept emphasises bringing people together and providing a common denominator, which is the act of eating. Across all cultures, food is about sharing and hospitality: not only through language, but also through taste and other sensory experiences.

Emerging different cuisines from a wide variety of cultures tell us a lot about immigration and integration.

Food catches our attention. It is both essential and enjoyable and is a way to become closer and to get to know each other’s culture better. The varieties of ingredients and spices, the different ways of cooking and serving, the where and how food is served and eaten, the different contexts in which dishes are being used and how they are reflected upon, and the different ways they interact with other cultures helps us understand how the new fusion is being created, while at the same time also writing a new social narrative.

From my personal observations through other projects that I was working on, within social and cultural contexts, I learned that words often do not define what is truly meant, or do not help us to relate specific things, especially to an audience. This project aims to make the participants active in the dinner and storytelling experience in order to experience the stories in their own way. There is no wrong or right interpretation of the dinner. Participants are free to discover the stories from their own perspective and experience according to their sensibility.

The goal of this project is to connect the cultural and the social and to give people from different backgrounds a voice, by creating a platform to present their real stories in connection with the most social activity of all: sharing food and eating together. As love goes through the Stomach (Liefde Gaat door de Maag), so does mutual understanding, recognition, and respect.

Thanks to Cemre for sharing this article with us!

You can check more info over here.

To get in touch with Cemre it's here!


“Futurist Cooking.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Nov. 2018,

Knöferle , Klemens, and Charles Spence. “Crossmodal Correspondences between Sounds and Tastes.” NCBI, Psychonomic Society, 6 Oct. 2012,

SCHOLTEN, PETER, and RONALD HOLZHACKER. “Nations and Nationalism.” ASEN/Blackwell Publishing, 2009, pp. 81–100,

Stein, Barry E et al. “Development of multisensory integration from the perspective of the individual neuron.” Nature reviews. Neuroscience vol. 15,8 (2014): 520-35. doi:10.1038/nrn3742

SCHOLTEN, PETER, and RONALD HOLZHACKER. “Nations and Nationalism.” ASEN/Blackwell Publishing, 2009, pp. 81–100,


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