UNESCO discovers Silk Road food processing tech under leadership of Turkish academician

Mustafa Bayram, Chairman of TABADER and a professor of Food Engineering Department at Gaziantep University, is elected as the head of UNESCO Silk Roads FPG Scientific Committee. Speaking to Miller about the activities of the committee which is investigating the interactions on the historical Silk Roads, especially the food processing technologies, Bayram said, “Layers of culture, art, and economy of many tribes and countries have been shaped by the Silk Roads. Thousands of years of history is still lived in every moment of our lives. But we are not aware.”


Prof. Dr. Mustafa BAYRAM

Gaziantep University, Head of Department of Food Technology – TABADER Chairman of the Board

The historical Silk Road – the center of great conflicts and wars throughout the history – is at the agenda again with “One Belt, One Road” project initiated by China to develop the trade from Asia to Europe. The debate has been ongoing on the East and the West about the targets and possible effects of the project of “the Modern Silk Road,” stretching from Beijing to London. Regardless of these debates, UNESCO carries out an important study on this strategic route, which is the interaction point of civilization throughout the history. One of the research topics covered in the Interactive Silk Roads Atlas project, launched last year, is food processing technology. In this regard, Mustafa Bayram, Chairman of TABADER and a professor of Food Engineering Department at Gaziantep University, is elected as the head of UNESCO Silk Roads FPG Scientific Committee. Heading this important committee attended by many researches from different countries, Bayram talked about this committee’s research and this proud duty to the Miller Magazine.

Here are the answers Professor Bayram gave to our questions:

What was the purpose behind establishment of the UNESCO Silk Roads FPG Scientific Committee?
Throughout history, the Silk and Spice Roads have influenced trade, culture, art, intercultural relations, gastronomy, music, customs, beliefs, rituals, medicines, health, and much more. UNESCO initiated an important project last year to investigate how the Silk Roads, which are not fully known when it started, affect societies and geographies and to bring them to daylight, to relay to the future generations. The project, called the project of UNESCO Interactive Silk Roads Atlas, created an umbrella in which many researchers from around the world came together and searched for nine different topics. There are sub-topics under these nine main topics. Within the framework of the project, experts from countries on the Silk Road have been selected. Among these researches, the UNESCO Silk Roads Scientific Groups show great efforts to come together at specified intervals and to carry out research on these nine main themes. In this context, the scientific group that I am part of has been investigating these interactions. Primarily, the topic is the food processing technologies and gastronomy interactions on the Silk Roads. My duty is to lead this committee and to facilitate coordination and to end the project successfully by the end of this year.

Well, can you tell us about the structure of this committee?
Seven researchers from countries on the Silk Road have come together for this part of the project. These people will complete seven topics until December 2018. These researches are from China, India, Russia, Iran, Greece, Lithuania and Turkey.

There is another feature of this scientific group. It will be the first and its studies will become a model methodologically for other studies. For this reason, studies are conducted very sensitively and the study methodology will be tracked at every stage. Thus, the study structure, form, and processes will be transferred to other groups. For this reason, beyond just research, these studies are important to build the backbone.

Can you tell about the studies being carried out by the committee so far?
Preliminary studies for this project took six months. First of all, draft topics were identified. For these study topics, experts were investigated around the world, particularly from countries on the Silk Roads. Many research articles and books were analyzed. A draft list was prepared for experts, and qualities of experts have been analyzed many times. So, the final list was lowered to seven people. The most difficult part of the project was this. It is not that easy to find real experts on the Silk Roads, it is thin on the ground. Then, we completed our studies on the study mechanism and how these groups will work and the right model.

In this process, face-to-face meetings and interviews were carried out with these people on this group. Meetings were conducted in different countries. One of the most difficult parts of the mission was to identify the issues that could cover all the characteristics of each country, covering all the Silk Roads. This was difficult as each country has different priorities, cultures, and products. One of the things that impressed me the most in this process is that: Traces that were left behind this road which was forgotten for centuries on communities are unbelievable. It is very interesting how we forgot about these roads.

Another issue is the nomads. Way too beyond of this modern world, cultures and features of nomad societies still lived hidden on these roads. Layers of culture, art, and economy of many tribes and countries have been shaped by the Silk Roads. Thousands of years of history is still lived in every moment of our lives. But we are not aware. We still have family relationships from this time. There are thousands of kilometers between us, but we’re like a neighbor in the next door. Under this project, it was necessary to melt everything in the same pot. The final decision on the topic and the final list were decided on the UNESCO Experts’ Meeting in Mongolia in July. The topic titles, which started with four, were expanded to seven by widening the Silk Roads. The project was expanded even more. At the moment, the project has been started in order to finish it at the end of this year. When the scientific group ends its studies, the second phase will start. A second committee will turn this information into materials. That part will be a more visual part. These will be understandable and attract everyone, and everyone will enjoy. For example, documents, videos, mobile phone applications, literature, children’s games, visuals and web-based materials for the Silk Roads will be prepared. The second part of the project will be tangible and will let everyone enjoy this. The target is the world’s citizens, young, children, and the future generation.

How did your election to the committee take place? Which factors play a role in this success? Would you briefly describe this process?
I was involved in this project as I carried out studies on the Silk and Spice Roads, anthropology, food history, and its future for many years. My works at UNESCO’s Innovative Cities network, my studies, conferences, and articles may have played role in this regard. In a sense, my duty is a kind of conductorship. The important thing is to have great sounds from this band composed of different musical instruments. UNESCO is an institution that scans the world well; such duty is honorable, but its responsibility is also so heavy. You do not have the chance to say that, “I tried but could not succeed.” I talk, carry research, and write on this topic. I enjoy this while I do it. These subjects are all joyful. When you’re working, you meet the curiosity of your mind. Sometimes working conditions are very difficult. You live three hundred kilometers away from the nearest city at mountains and deserts and spend your days at a tent away from technology and world blessings. You get cold and sweat. You get tired. However, this is not a job; rather it is a passion and duty. It is a debt to your past and a deposit that needs to be handed over the future. That’s why I did not complain about these hardships and what I did and I will not.
What are your responsibilities as the head of the committee?
It is not that easy to coordinate. It is very difficult for people and decision makers coming from many different cultures and countries to have consensus. Just like the United Nations, it is like everyone reaching a deal. However, the greatest help is the science’s universal principles in this process. They help a lot. In a way, people reach at the same point according to what the science tells and the truth is. Discussions and ideas are consolidated in the same way. Seeing in practice what kind of solutions the science brings provides experience. While ensuring this coordination, it is necessary for the working group to comply with the UNESCO’s principles.

You have to consider not only a single country but also many countries and all the cultures on the Silk Roads in history. It is necessary to see the big picture, all areas from Asia and Europe without staying within the borders of the country. If the mentality is right, it is enjoyable to manage the process.

Can you tell us about your works on the food processing technologies, which is one of the missions of the committee?
Our scientific committee is currently conducting research on food processing related to the historic Silk Roads. We are trying to find the root of these products, the importance of these products for the Silk Roads, their trades, processing characteristics, the effect on cultures, how the technique emerges, how they were moved, and many other sub-themes. Sometimes we try to find them in modern techniques. We are trying to find countries, roads, and cultural interactions. There are noodle, tea, spice, rice, meat products, wine, and milk products within the seven topics in the food processing section. These are the topics set in the first place. The number of them can be increased later. For example, the noodle is the product, belonging to the Silk Roads. Marco Polo learned it in the Far East and carried this product and its technique to Italy through the Silk Road. Now, it is associated with Italy. Tea has many different effects on all cultures. Even its service and ceremony are very different. All countries that received tea through inroads on the Silk Road name it in the same way. China, Kazakhstan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, and the Balkans call tea in the same way. But their technique of processing and service are different. Other countries that received tea from the sea routes called it differently. There are thousands of caravansaries on the ancient Silk Road, hotels of that time but they were not only hotels. They were cultural centers where cultures of the Silk Road are transferred and spread to these regions. Many products and techniques were spread to these regions from these hotels. Rice is originated in 7500 BC in Asia and was brought to Europe thanks to the Silk Roads. Today, rice is a part of our food culture. At weddings, people throw rice in the air so that it brings blessing to the new couple. Sticky small rice is loved in the Far East while a solid piece of rice is loved to the West.

Another topic is the food culture. People on the Silk Road eat food quickly and do not enjoy a chat while eating. This is a feature of traveler, but settled, western people extend their meal time and enjoy the chat. They are completely different. The dry meat is completely different technology. The technology that even the modern food technology employs today is a technique remained from the Silk Road. Drying meat under the sun on a very cold day… We do the same in facilities. The story behind is interesting. Genghis Khan distributed dry meat so that his soldiers can move quickly. While riding a horse, soldiers can prepare their meals by putting hot stone and dry meat in water. There was the culture of fast food with extended shelf life at that time. Other products are like yoghurt, ayran, and kumiss (mare’s milk). All these are the products of the Silk Road. Even microorganisms were transported on these routes, even fermentation moved.
Spices were the most important products of these roads. But, for example, the black pepper was not carried in these routes since they were cheap. They were not worthy to carry. More valuable spices were transferred. But it was secret where these spices were grown. This secrecy was kept for centuries.

No products were transported from one end to the other by the same caravan on the Silk Roads. A caravan transferred its products to the other caravan. Caravansaries were used as the most strategic place. These places were archives. The shape of trade and roaming helped the diversification of this culture and trade. Trade secrets were kept, and other traders were kept in dark about suppliers.

The Silk Roads even set the course of trade. For example, products were not moved only from east to west but from west to east as well. But only precious and valuable goods were moved. Since the transportation was expensive, goods moving on the Silk Roads were expensive, too. Goods without value addition were not transported. Communities that are regarded as successful and talented in trade today’s world gained this popularity at that time. Those who dominate routes and trade also dominated money. Diamonds, gold, jewels, silks, spices, slaves, women… Many goods are transported on this route. There were bitter and great stories. Races, cultures, beliefs, philosophies, and arts mixed together. For example, musical instruments were almost the same in this route. And many more…

Is there anything else you would like to mention in particular?
Apart from the topics mentioned above and UNESCO studies, what I will say after this section should be considered differently. UNESCO conducts projects based on supra-national, universal values in culture, art, and science. For this reason, the next topics will be put separately. The ancient Silk Road and the new Silk Road are different from one another. They should be regarded as separate. What I say now is about the new Silk Road.

For too long, we brainstorm with valuable researchers on the new Silk Roads and pen international articles on these topics. We try to put forward new ideas. At international platforms, we try to develop ideas for policymakers and strategy developers. The most important topic for today and near future is “New Silk Roads.” We no longer name it as “Silk Road,” but call it as “Silk Roads.” It is because we no longer talk about a single line or route. We talk about many routes and different layers. There are few people that know, think, and plan about this. We miss the topic again as a country. But the beautiful thing about this is that there are people who put forward ideas, analysis, and plans. Apart from recent articles on the establishment of “Silk Roads Think Tanks,” my recent article, I think, has become one of the most important and strategic articles that design the future of New Silk Roads and put forward new ideas.

Views of expert people for New Silk Road, expected to fetch USD 4 trillion as investment, brought together and published at international level. (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/omi.2018.0085).

According to some, the new trade route network is from east to west, from west to east. But the situation is far beyond that. We talk about a formation that will dislodge the stones in the world. In the “Horizon Scanning” article that circulates around the globe, how the new Silk Road should be, what potential it contains, and how nations will benefit more are put forward. These views as strategic road maps are brought together by Professor Ilona Kickbusch of Switzerland Geneva International and Development Studies Institute and Co-Chair of Global Health Trust (UHC2030), Özgür Bayram, the General Secretary of Gaziantep Commercial Exchange, Professor Nezih Hekim of Cumhuriyet University, Bülent Kayalı, the Department Chair from the Southeast Anatolia Exporters’ Union, and Professor Vural Özdemir, New York Chief Editor at OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology.

The ancient Silk Road began to emerge as the Silk Road of the new world. Especially the architecture of this new trade-culture-food-health-technology-information path is being discussed. Turkey should not remain outside of this discussion. This matter, which sounds unfamiliar to Turkey for now, had already been started to be discussed in the world long before. It is an entirely different feasibility issue where the new Silk Road will pass through or being a part of this network. I do not know how much feasibility we have as a country. For now, Turkey closed its ears to this, but when we open our ears, there will be many discourses on which we do not have authority.

I am only happy because of the rediscovery of ancient Silk Roads, but I am anxious to fall behind of the issue for the new Silk Roads.


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