Taste and Terroir as an Anthropological Matter – Summary

Happy New Year!

Abigail Adams and I are the new co-editors of the SAFN blog. Our heartfelt thanks to David Beriss, the long-time editor and constant champion of this fantastic resource! We are stepping into big shoes.

We will begin our tenure with a series of short overviews of the food related panels at the 2017 American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington, D.C.. We include contact information for the panel organizer so that you can easily initiate further dialogue or requests for individual papers.

Kerri Lesh (University of Nevada-Reno; kerri.lesh@gmail.com) organized the panel, Taste and Terroir as Anthropological Matter. She was joined by Carole Counihan, Anne Lally, Sharyn Jones and Daniel Shattuck. I was the discussant. The papers covered a wide range of locations, perceptions and actions related to taste and terroir: Kentucky, Iceland, Sardinia, Italy and Spain; capers, grapes, sheep, hogs. As Kerri Lesh points out, terroir can be identified as a rich site for “condensed sociocultural matter.” In such considerations, as made clear by everyone on the panel, terroir makes sense to people due to concerns that emerge from specific cultural and environmental contexts. Anthropologists, thus, can make an important contribution to the expanding scholarly interest in the concept of terroir, because our research makes clear that it cannot be understood using linear analyses of cause and effect. Meanings are complex and contradictory. Anne Lally’s exploration of the contested role of sheep to the Icelandic landscape and culture made that clear; these sheep are ‘good’ for Iceland’s agrarian identity but not so ‘good’ for contemporary concerns about tree loss and soil erosion. Meanwhile, everyone in Iceland likes the taste of the sheep. So, certain sociocultural matters appear consistently in terroir talk, even though the cultures and identities vary. All the panelists agreed that we talk about terroir in order to be connected to a certain geography. Daniel Shattuck, Sharyn Jones and Carole Counihan’s ethnographies reveal that to talk about terroir can also reveal contemporary concerns, because it reinforces the notion that our food is natural, it comes from the soil and not a bag of Miracle Gro. Finally, we all affirmed that those we studied care about terroir because it links food and drink to larger human aspirations, mediating on-going attempts to build towards the social, cultural and public good – by producers, by consumers, by activists.

Amy Trubek, SAFN Blog Co-Editor

University of Vermont


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