Vive le Terroir – A Review

“Even McDonald’s here features onions from Brittany.”

A really good article in the Sunday New York Times expressed a thought that I feel a lot of people in the local food movement have about eating local. Many people who don’t share the sentiment of those who like to eat local feel that it is all about some kind of contest where one has to prove that all of the food that they ate was procured locally. It is really more sophisticated than that and in explaining what the term “terrior” means to the French, New York Times news analyst Steven Erlinger has also articulated what many of the folks in the local food movement are, I think, generally trying to say.

Photo: New York Times

Photo: New York Times

Terrior is sometimes translated as”a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of a product. It is a loanword from French who use it to describe both the qualities that a wine has as well as its use for other products such coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, wheat, and tea. In other words soil, water, and the weather in a locale can effect the quality and taste of a product grown or raised in an area. The concept is also applied to other Protected Appellations of Origin (PDOs a form of geographical indication), products such as cheeses.

Mr. Erlinger explains that while this definition may apply to French products living up to an E.U. bureaucratic technicality it also has a deeper meaning. And although in parts of the article he seems to discount what terroir means to local food with sentences like “Though related to the farm-to-table and locavore movements of a new generation, terroir is not about proximity, but about honesty and community,”  he goes on to to point out the importance of the word to the French and in doing so, its relation to the local food movement:

“The importance of terroir to the French psyche and self-image is difficult to overestimate, because it is a concept almost untranslatable, combining soil, weather, region and notions of authenticity, of genuineness and particularity — of roots, and home — in contrast to globalized products designed to taste the same everywhere.”

Thus the meaning of eating local!



Overall the article basically says that the French had a sense of what the concept of “eating locally” was centuries ago. It is a notion that is beyond ideology, not conservative or liberal, but of something deeper. As the French in the article say it is not just about proximity or being organic, “local” or “terroir,” are concepts that give a sense of place. They help to tie people to the land, give people roots and a connection to the past, and help to grow a local culture.

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