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The Taste of Place and The Nature of Trust: Natural and Heritage Foods in Post-Socialist Kazakhstan

  • Author(s): Mc Lean, Julia Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Levine, Nancy
  • et al.

This paper explores Almaty city dwellers’ use of two place-based descriptors—zhailau and ecologically clean—to describe rurally-sourced natural and heritage foods in urban Kazakhstan. In contemporary Kazakhstan, as among other industrial and post-industrial societies, ideas surrounding rurally-sourced foods extend beyond questions of urban-industrial hygiene or quality control, and point more powerfully to the perceived moralities instilled in foods sourced from different places. These places may be concrete geographic locales, or more abstract rural idylls; nevertheless, in either sense, they are felt to imbue food with valuable indigenous nature-cultures otherwise lacking in everyday urban life. Building upon four months of fieldwork in Almaty and surrounding suburbs, I analyze the experiences of individuals living in and strongly identifying with a cosmopolitan hub, yet actively engaged with rural spaces and livelihoods. I argue that zhailau and ecologically clean foods embody a sense of inalienability and community felt to be missing from commercially produced or imported counterparts, and serve as comestible vehicles of rural, primordial nature-cultures amidst the formative powers of Soviet socialism and contemporary transnationalism.

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