Terroir (French pronunciation: [tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, “land”) is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, cannabis, and tea.
I begin today’s post with this Wikipedia interpretation so that no speedy reader inadvertently assumes that I’m commenting on terrorism.
Occasionally the tapestry of life weaves in coincidental ways and when it does, it can spark delight. Such was the case on Saturday.
It was inside my old boxy Volvo in 2001 where I first heard an interview with Gary Paul Nabhan. I didn’t realize from listening that he lived quite near me but I was mesmerized by his story of eating food found within a 100 mile radius of his home. While not the least bit enticed by his method of harvesting road kill, I became deeply interested in the concept of local foods and of foraging. I still have much to learn about the latter.
From that moment on, I’ve sought out Community Supported Agriculture, worked to encourage local farms and entrepreneurs, written this blog for individuals who are struggling with how to use their weekly CSA deliveries, learned to harvest my own mesquite trees for flour, joined the Board of the Desert Botanical Garden, funded school gardens in our state, and more but it all began by listening to Gary.
I’ve met him a couple of times. Once at the AZ Humanities Council and again when I spotted him at the Outstanding in the Field dinner. Both times he was pleasant but I felt something of a teenaged groupie snapping his photo and stumbling for words.
Then came a special offer; would I lead a workshop on The Power of Local Economies at a conference called Going Native; Savoring the Southwest. Happily I agreed and then, learned that the keynote speaker would be the world reknowned writer, conservation scientist and pioneer of the local food movement, Gary Nabhan. I was one of 6 workshop leaders and Gary was center stage. Being named alongside him and eating lunch with him to share stories about the food movement created a perfect day.
This is the poem that he shared with the attendees:
A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto for Eating in Place:
by Gary Paul Nabhan
Know where your food has come from
through knowing those who produced it for you,
from farmer and forager, rancher or fisher
to earthworms building a deeper, richer soil,
to the heirloom vegetable, the nitrogen-fixing legume,
the pollinator, the heritage breed of livestock,
the sourdough culture rising in your flour.Know where your food has come from
by the very way that it tastes:
its freshness telling you
how many miles it may have traveled,
the hint of mint in the cheese
suggesting what the goat has eaten,
the terroir of the wine
reminding you of the lime
in the soil that you stand upon,
so that you can stand up for the land
that has offered it to you.Know where your food has come from
by ascertaining the health and the wealth
of those who picked and processed it,
by the fertility of the soil that is left
in the patches where it once grew,
by the traces of pesticides (or hopefully, lack of them)
found in the birds and the bees there.
Know whether the bays and shoals
where your shrimp and fish once swam
were left richer or poorer than before
you and your kin ate from them.Know where your food has come from
by the richness of stories told around the table
recalling all that was harvested nearby
during the years that came before you,
when your predecessors and your ancestors,
roamed the same woods and neighborhoods
where you and yours once roamed.
Know them by the songs sung to praise them,
by the handmade tools kept to harvest them,
by the rites and feasts held to celebrate them,
by the laughter let loose to show them our affection.Know where your foods have come from
by the patience displayed while putting them up,
while peeling, skinning, coring or gutting them,
while pit-roasting, poaching or fermenting them,
while canning, salting or smoking them,
while arranging them on the plate for our eyes to behold.
Know where your food has come from
by the s-s-s-s-slow s-s-s-s-s-savoring of each and every morsel,
by letting their fragrances lodge in our memories
reminding us of just exactly where we were the very day
that we became blessed by each of their distinctive flavors for the first time.When you know where your food comes from
you can give something back to those lands and to those waters,
that rural culture, that migrant harvester,
curer, smoker, poacher, roaster or vintner.
You can give something back to that soil,
something fecund and fleeting like compost
or something lasting and legal like protection.
We, as humans, have not been given
roots as obvious as those of trees.
The surest way we have to lodge ourselves
within this blessed earth is by knowing
where our food has come from.
It’s National Poetry Month. What’s your favorite food poem?