By Sinan Ozyemisci
When we think about the ‘natural roots of our culture,’ what is it that comes to mind? Perhaps we often think about our family traditions, our ancestors, or maybe even all of the languages our great-grandparents spoke. But do we ever think of literal roots in the soil? Do we ever think about the proximity of the ingredients that we use when we prep family dinners?
Think about the roots behind the ingredients we consume or, even perhaps, the food our parents and our grandparents had ‘farm to table’ access to. If you’ve ever had a conversation with Baby Boomers or even Generation X folks who’ve spent their childhood within the Mediterranean region, you frequently heard ingredients correspond to a family’s name or a first name, simply because those farm-to-table ingredients were always purchased from the same farmer. You also always heard about a region tied to each ingredient, described with so much detail that it made you feel like you were there, walking alongside them. Last but not least, you could not help but notice that every story had a time-of-year, a particular season or month tied to each delicious ingredient.
Even to this day, it is not like we ever hear of Italian ancestors talking about delicious greenhouse tomatoes in mid-January. How many times have you heard an Italian grandfather talk about cooking some of the most delicious Branzino (sea bass) on a cold winter day? The answer most likely is never, and that is because there was no access to those ingredients aside from their natural season, which in the case of Branzino would be summer.
I bring this up because I recently had the chance to backtrack my roots and experience the cuisine up-close and personal. For the last six months of 2020, I was able to run a self-experiment by traveling back to Turkey, making it a point to consume only local (farmed within 50 miles tops), in-season ingredients. And to up the ante, I continued to track my macros (macronutrient grams) to see what impact these new eating habits would have on my caloric intake and macronutrient distribution.
My trip consisted of two flights: Miami to Istanbul and Istanbul to Bodrum. The second my final flight touched down in Bodrum, I dove right into a very gastronomy-focused to-do list:
- Meet the local fisherman and bargain a catch.
- Show up to the local farmer’s market to figure out which in-season ingredients would be a weekly ‘must’ for me. Then buy that produce from several farmers to figure out which I like the best.
- Once that is established, at the next farmer’s market, strike a conversation with that farmer about picking up straight from their farm to save them room on their truck so that they can bring to more customers.
- Develop a genuine relationship with that farmer to let you know when their season is wrapping up and when the product will switch over to the greenhouse.
I was able to check off every item on that list less than 72-hours after my flight had touched down. My fridge was full of local produce, sourced within fifty miles of the house. The fridge door was filled with eggs delivered daily by a biker from a farm only three miles across town. The yogurt and cheese came from a goat farm just an afternoon walk away. And, for the first time in my life, I had a fisherman tell me to be more frugal in life. He told me to save my money and only buy enough fresh fish to cook that same night for dinner, as he refused to sell me more when I said I would freeze what I didn’t use.
If that were not enough to fill my list of ‘first time for everything’ moments, I even had a farmer stop me mid-conversation to tell me to pick a new favorite fruit. As heartbreaking as the thought of choosing a new favorite was, she followed that up by telling me that if figs were my favorite fruit, then I had a tight three-week window to make my mind up on a new favorite; by day twenty-two, I would have no chance of finding figs again until the next summer.
Now, while you might look at that as a short-lived experiment, those 72-hours were truly just the beginning—the next 72 days of how my body reacted to the changes surfaced the breakthrough findings. After a few weeks of eliminating the retail grocery chain from my sourcing list, I began to see GI regularity changes. Then, with every bite of local fruit, not only did I rediscover what ‘full-of-flavor’ meant, but I felt my energy levels spike. Every bite out of a local apple felt like nature’s version of an adrenaline shot. Every single strawberry was more satisfying than strawberries had ever been. Almost as if someone had dipped them in simple syrup and hung them back on their runner.
The most surprising part of it all was that I not only stopped craving foreign ingredients, but my body was now turned off to several processed ingredients, many of which had been a staple ingredient for me before my relocation. As a matter of fact, with how well-balanced my macronutrient and micronutrient intake became, I never felt the need to step outside of my new shopping habits for those foreign ingredients for any caloric support.
Looking further into the gastrointestinal changes, even though the bulk of my cheese choices were goat-milk based, I noticed that my lactose sensitivity had completely subsided. My body was firing on all cylinders like it never had before. Everything became clockwork. Energy levels throughout the day were no longer a rollercoaster. Hours spent within deep sleep were longer than I had ever tracked prior, even when taking melatonin.
So, after six months of a locavore diet, it was safe to say that every single ingredient was far more flavorful, more nutritious. In addition to the beneficial properties of bacteria and air quality in the local environment, these eating habits created a long list of beneficial properties within my body.
About the Author
Sinan is a Nutrition Coach for Stronger U Nutrition, where his goal is to make others just as passionate as he is about what they buy, what they eat, and what they put in their body. Sinan has his Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College and is currently pursuing his second Master’s degree in Nutritional Studies at Penn State University. He plans to become a Registered Dietitian in 2021. After completing his RDN, Sinan hopes to expand his nutritional impact for a healthier tomorrow across the world while working alongside his diverse team of colleagues at Stronger U. Sinan grew up in Coastal Turkey where he learned the value of using fresh ingredients and trying new recipes. Connect with Sinan on his Instagram page @dr_synonymous.