David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 10 Nov 08 13:22
For our next discussion, we're very pleased to welcome Amy Trubek to Inkwell. Amy Trubek is a cultural anthropologist who also trained and worked as a professional cook. She is presently an assistant professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont where she teaches classes such as From Farm to Table: The Contemporary Food System and Food and Culture (including a cooking lab. She was previously the Executive Director of Vermont Fresh Network and also worked at New England Culinary Institute. She is the author of "The Taste of Place, A Cultural Journey into Terroir" and "Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession" (University of Pennsylvania Press). She is presently involved in an effort to document the taste of place in Vermont maple syrup and artisan cheese. Her other present research interest involved an ethnographic inquiry into contemporary domestic cooking practices in the United States. Leading the discussion with Amy is our own Anne Boyd: Anne Boyd is a project manager at a landscape architecture firm in Los Angeles, specializing in parks and public work. Her professional interests include the expression of narrative, history and the arts in landscape; memorial landscapes and cemeteries; urban wildlife habitats; and ecoregionally appropriate landscape design. She also has a long-standing personal interest in agricultural history and sustainable agriculture. She is currently part of the team developing interpretive gardens depicting the agricultural history of Los Angelesfor the new Los Angeles State Historic Park. Welcome, Amy and Anne!
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Tue 11 Nov 08 19:01
Hi everybody! I want to thank Amy first of all, for joining us. As many food enthusiasts as we have here on the Well (I'm trying to avoid using the word "foodie," but may not suceeed in the long term) I expect quite a stampede over here soon. Compared to many of the Well's denizens, I'm not actually much of a food expert, although I might deserve the title of "enthusiast" to some degree. (Especially to anyone who has seen the happy daze in which I wander through our local Southern California farmer's markets.) My professional interests, as evident from my bio, are in landscape architecture and sustainable urbanism, not agriculture and the culture of food; but of course it doesn't really make sense to speak of those concerns as being separate. They are only separate because our culture has managed to split apart what are really very closely linked and allied subjects. In my profession we often speak of 'local character' and 'cultural landscapes,' and these are common themes throughout Amy's discussion of terroir as well. Amy, to start things off, I wonder if you can tell us something about your own personal concept of 'terroir,' what you thought the word meant when you first learned it, and what it means to you now?
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Amy Trubek (katherine) Wed 12 Nov 08 09:15
Hello Everybody: Thanks for having me participate in an Inkwell discussion! I am completely new to the Well (and really to much of the latest digital platforms) but so far, so good. When I first started thinking about terroir, I was very much influenced by my colleague at the time at New England Culinary Institute who taught all the classes on wine to budding cooks and chefs. He talked a lot about terroir with his students, particularly in explaining the Old World (or European) approach to winemaking. In the world of wine, the strongest association with terroir is the link between the natural environment and the final sensory properties of a wine. Thus, we first talked a lot about slope, site, climate, and soil. But since my academic training is in cultural anthropology, I fast wanted to understand if terroir could be extended to other food and drink and also to include the human involvement in making that very link between, let's say, south facing slope and gravel with the flinty taste of a Chablis. I remember asking Mark, "why can't there be a terroir to potatoes?" Now, almost 10 years after I first posed that question, I do understand terroir more broadly. I see terroir as way of paying attention to the complex environmental and cultural factors that shape the sensory profile of maple syrup, or wine or cheese. By paying attention, and saying that variability of taste rather than conformity of taste is the final goal, terroir can help us become a food culture with more diverse palates (and along the way perhaps support unique small scale farmers and food artisans). Amy
(wiggly) Wed 12 Nov 08 11:58
Thanks for joining us, Amy. While I'm sold on the local food movement, I have to admit that part of me still sees this kind of attention to food as the province of foodie snobs. What would you say to the mythical Joe Six-Pack who might dismiss all this "terroir" talk as just recreational gluttony of wine-sipping elites on the coasts? Why does the taste of place matter?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Wed 12 Nov 08 12:44
I'd follow on to that question by asking about the connections between terroir and sustainability, too. Although sustainability in itself is not a major theme of the book, it seems to me there are a lot of connections between knowledge of local conditions, fine-grained adaptation of agricultural practices to those local conditions, and the long-term sustainability of agricultural practices....not to mention other land use decisions. There is a section in the book that discusses l'affaire Mondavi, in which the American winemaker Robert Mondavi Winery tried to buy up land to establish a vineyard in Aniane, a village in southwest France. The effort was ultimately scotched by local opposition, not just to Americans barging in where they weren't wanted, but also to the intention of developing certain lands for vineyards that were previously considered communally held forest. Two things from an ecological perspective struck me about this story: one, the mention that the _garrigues_ (shrubland areas similar to California's chaparral, and similarly aromatic) were held to impart the flavors of wild herbs to wine grapes grown near these wildlands; and the local idea that wild uplands were to be preserved for communal use, including hiking and foraging for wild foods. I would also tend to assume that there is some consciousness, whether or not it is explicit, of the value of preserving hills and mountains to protect the local watershed. And there is also recognition in some thinking about sustainable agriculture that 'wild' areas have a complex relationship with cultivated areas, affecting things like biodiversity of pollinators and species that prey on agricultural pests. It seems to me that in this case, the local community's concept of protecting its terroir reflected an integrated set of concerns about land use, livability, and the interrelations between nature and culture that we might today view through the lens of "sustainability."
(dana) Wed 12 Nov 08 12:56
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms has written about the importance of the apparently-unproductive forest land on his farm to its overall output. I love the idea of including all aspects of forest use, including recreational walking, in its valuation.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Wed 12 Nov 08 18:38
I haven't read the book yet (though I am going to because it sounds interesting), but I always balk a little at the idea of eating only local foods. I like chocolate and cinnamon and lots of other things that will never grow in North Carolina. I'm willing to make much of my diet local, but not all of it. (Also, I know there are several places in the world that are physically incapable of feeding themselves with only locally produced food.)
cyndigo (cynthiabarnes) Wed 12 Nov 08 20:34
Looking forward to this discussion! I try to eat locally, but it gives me great pleasure to know that in the not-too-distant past, the contents of my spice pantry would have been worth a small kingdom.
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Wed 12 Nov 08 21:12
Well, I'll let Amy fill in more completely, but the book is not exactly about "eating locally." It is more about the total environment that goes into creating local character in food. Interesting to note that the ways people think about "eating locally," true to our pesky Puritan heritage, are at least partially focused on what is denied in following a strict set of "rules."
Old Time Tongass Secessionist (archipelago) Wed 12 Nov 08 21:45
RE: #4 foodie snobs,etc and the feelings of Joe Six-Pack. Seems obvious that the people who are profiting from the destruction of earth and watershed by industrial agriculture are more likely to patronize the chic purveyors of terroir, than poor old Joe who is more likely to be living in the mess, and risking diabetes from consuming so much industrial food.High fructose corn syrup is,of course most beneficial to those who own or finance the industrial agriculture and processing.Seems to me that the ability to profit from the destruction of topsoil and economy is the mark of an elite. (rosmar) I haven't read the book, either, but it seems that some form of trade will always exist, and should. As a primary food producer(commercial fisherman) who sells a large portion of my catch overseas I would like to see it continue. But artesanal fishermen, commercial or subsistance, are never without a battle for survival. The antagonist changes costumes quite often, but it's the same old villain: the destruction of relationships between the human people and the land and animal and plant people made holy by time, tradition and practices made workable by hundreds of generations of Mistakes, the kind which usually can be survived. One reason that Alaskan salmon fisheries are in better shape now than 50 years ago is that the longest reproductive cycle is 5 years, so we haven't had to wait long for mistakes to become painfully apparent.The first act of the new state legislature in 1959 was to outlaw fish traps,huge floating traps which were owned by economic colonialists who were unconcerned about sustainability. In the forest the news is not so good. The minimum for old growth cycles may turn out to be 300 years, and what banker can make that long a bet? We don't know how big our mistakes will turn out to be. Gary Snyder, Wes Jackson, Gary Holthaus (who fished and lived in Alaska) and Wendell Berry have written volumes about these kinds of relationships. I have been told that some parts of Europe have had the same amount of topsoil for over a thousand years.I have also been told by elders that the Tlingit people believe that spawning salmon are their ancestors returning in order to feed them. Somehow these two relationships don't seem to be very different. John Jeavons writes about building the soil, so that the soil will feed you; a small part, perhaps, of what Wendell Berry called the country of marriage. Economic localization is undoubtedly one of the by-products of healthy relationships with local land and creatures, but it does not have to mean isolationism of any kind. Living within the pattern of a place will probably generate appropriate amounts of exportable surplus...
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 13 Nov 08 02:28
Interesting to read up there about Aniane. Two of my favorite French wines come from right around there, and one of the things I'll be doing after my move is finished is figuring out how to get out there and look around. I'm wondering what other terroir-oriented items may be growing out there, and what kind of meal you could fashion which would revolve around the local food and wine -- what the experience would be.
Amy Trubek (katherine) Thu 13 Nov 08 04:37
Wow, what a fabulous set of comments about the taste of place! I will start with my own enlightened self interest to say, as Anne pointed out, that my book is primarily concerned with the beliefs and practices of various food artisans and why they believe in the link to place. Thus, taste of place matters because for these winemakers, cheesemakers, farmers and others who are trying to make a place for themselves in a global market place strewn with unknown food commodities, it informs their practices and possibly allows them to survive. The taste of place also matters to me because the ideas relies on food and drink as sources of sensory pleasure which we do tend to dismiss in our more puritanical and moralistic food culture here in the United States. And now let me turn to the questions about Joe Six pack. I am not interested in condemning either the taste of place or other taste cultures. For me, we all have opportunities to engage in our landscape for the purposes of linking taste and place, but these opportunities will vary depending on location (urban, rural), class (working class or wealthy) and ethnicity. So, for example, here in Vermont there is a powerful food culture of hunting and fishing and sharing the bounty of that harvest. My husband is a chef and many of his employees are off this week to go to deer camp, a true persistent food tradition here. However, this food is just for home consumption so it does not really engage And the fact that I focused on
Amy Trubek (katherine) Thu 13 Nov 08 04:39
Whoops, I send this off too soon. I will respond again in a little bit but to finish, since I was focused on food artisans in The Taste of Place I did not focus on events like deer camp, but why couldn't it be included in a broad inclusive vision of how we do build the taste of place here in the United States?
Amy Trubek (katherine) Thu 13 Nov 08 07:05
I also want to chime in about the importance or relevance of creating boundaries around what we eat or where it comes from, which some people discussed earlier. I, too, have concerns about creating a regionalized or localized food system that is too rules based, creating boundaries and possibly really issues of inclusion and exclusion. I prefer to, using Randall Grahm's felicitous phrase, think about terroir intelligence. Thus we always consider the relationship between taste, food and place whether a producer or consumer, but this can be a vast global network. So for example, my morning cup of coffee uses terroir intelligence b/c I buy it from a local roaster who sources fair trade coffee from around the world and then I put in milk from my local dairy.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 13 Nov 08 09:07
For those of us who haven't read the book yet can you possibly expand a little bit on "terroir?" I'm not clear on the concept and Google has not been too enlightening (probably because the references I found were to wine, about which I understand little). How would terroir relate to, say, Vermont cheese vs Wisconsin cheese vs industrial cheese?
(dana) Thu 13 Nov 08 11:00
re: local food - extreme stunts like the 100 mile diet gets a lot of press, but none of the people I know who are passionate about food are trying to eliminate anything not grown in their region. The world's food supply has been globalized in some ways for a very long time - sugar, salt cod, spices, and tea come to mind immediately - and we're going to have to wait for a lot more climate change before it's practical to have coffee plantations in San Francisco. Although, depressingly, perhaps not as long as we used to think.
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Thu 13 Nov 08 11:24
Well, in relation to that, I was reading recently that climate change is already affecting the wine growers in Napa/Sonoma; since things are getting warmer they are having to adapt and perhaps focus on different grapes than previously specialized in. But since I'm a wine philistine I can't remember the exact details.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Thu 13 Nov 08 11:56
Which reminds me, though, of how horrible the wine grown in North Carolina is. I've heard there are exceptions, but when I went to the wine festival last year every one I tasted was too sweet and cloying. So even if you can make wine locally, that doesn't mean you should.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 13 Nov 08 12:14
i found myself thinking about cortland apples. they seem to grow in upstate new york and western mass...i have never had apples as good. and i bet it's a mixture of the right variety in the right climate and right soil (not being able to eat them is one of the few things i dont like about living in the greater bay area...)
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 13 Nov 08 19:49
Yep, where I live, Joe Six-pack hunts and fishes and knows more about terroir than any of us. How about terroir in honey and the use of it to prevent allergies? In Santa Cruz, I even saw people talking about terroir in the context of marijuana.
Old Time Tongass Secessionist (archipelago) Thu 13 Nov 08 23:13
Very interesting post in "Science and the kitchen: g cook 22 1195 >Bacteria in the mouth play a role in creating the distinctive flavors of certain foods, scientists in Switzerland report... >The mouth acts as a reactor, adding another dimension to odor perceptions, Wow. We are what we eat. What we are determines the taste of what we eat We eat what we are, or perhaps hunger to be. In an intact vernacular culture, do the people, crops, livestock and prey animals ( and therefore, obviously, cuisine) coevolve to not only conform to, but shape the pattern of a place? A few months before 9/11 my wife found herself in Roquefort, after a succession of depressing dramas: rental car breakdown, locked out of the robot hotel, last chance to do laundry lost etc. This left her with what she described as a suitcase full of truly nasty laundry, which of course is where she secreted the chunk of prize-winning cheese. The cheese was on the no-fly list due to the actions of Jose Bove (tore down a McDonald's with his tractor) and the French department of Agriculture, a true economic terrorist. As I tasted this marvelous stuff I had a kind of cartoon vision of the possible series of mistakes which led up to cheese becoming the microflora's ambassador to the human world...the sheep and the people drinking the same water filtered through the same minerals present in the caves..."Madame la fromagere, may I present M. penicillium roqueforti...his appearance belies his civilized, cosmopolitan nature...."
(wiggly) Fri 14 Nov 08 00:53
Wait, your wife secretes cheese into her dirty laundry? Although that kind of freaks me out, it probably qualifies for its own appellation. I spend a fair amount of time in a little village in Switzerland that should be the poster child for terroir - they make a lot of bergkase up there, and the whole country seems to agree that the best cheese comes from one high valley - the Sefinental. My family keeps their cows up there during the summer. And yet, I hear from my friends who work with the agriculture dept. down in Bern that the government is going to cut off the subsidies to farmers in my village. The bureaucrats think that they can just pay to mow the fields so it looks good for the tourists - no cows necessary. They'll find out they're wrong, of course, but by that time the farmers will be extinct. Which makes me wonder - how can we keep the really old-skool farmers and their centuries-old terroir alive as governments decide they've become obsolete? Can it be done, or should we focus on developing new terroir without the benefit of farming history?
Old Time Tongass Secessionist (archipelago) Fri 14 Nov 08 02:17
Double-wrapped in plastic,actually, but good opinionated cheese seems to have no trouble getting some vapor through...no Roquefort was getting into the US legally, and the strategy served to prevent the customs agents from giving the bag a good toss....terribly sorry my imprecision caused a freakout.
spinning around like an errant, tuxedoed rinse cycle (thelobster) Fri 14 Nov 08 04:41
<22>: I find it interesting that in this age of gourmet markets and slow-food restaurants, it's simply a given a cheese that everyone in the country knows and loves can't even hope to survive without government subsidies. Mind you I'm no cheerleader for free-market capitalism, and I'd much rather see government subsidies going towards artisanal foods rather than high-fructose corn syrup, but if that's not happening, one would hope that there'd be another way.
(wiggly) Fri 14 Nov 08 10:22
My bad for the cheesy attempt at humor, archipelago. Small farmers in Switzerland, at least the ones I know up high in the mountains, are fighting a losing battle against modernization. First, they can't compete against big agriculture's efficiency - the mountain farming I'm familiar with is labor intensive, and much of the land is too steep for large vehicles - mowers, hay trucks, etc. The second problem, and perhaps the more serious one, is that young people are understandably reluctant to choose a farming career that pretty much guarantees low income and continuous physical labor. The urbanization of the population in general is another factor. Although farmers are at the core of Switzerland's national mythology, urban and suburban voters are increasingly reluctant to subsidize small farms. I've worked a bit with some farmers up there, and I have no idea how they can hope to survive without subsidies. Farming at such a small scale on really rugged terrain was probably never much more than subsistence, and I'm always amazed at how much work it takes to produce a few 10 kilo wheels of cheese. It may well be that this particular terroir is doomed to extinction.
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