More on taste and terroir

Terroir at its Roots:  From Panel to Publication

Kerri Lesh, University of Nevada-Reno

Amy Trubek began the New Year by writing about the annual meeting of AAA, and in particular, our panel on terroir. It was a truly eye-opening panel, showing the influences terroir has as anthropological matter in various geographical regions. To piggy back off of Amy’s recent post, we covered a lot of ground in our presentations.  Here’s how my own interest to develop a panel started…

I have attended the AAA for the past several years, and each year I noticed a panel or presentation on terroir. It was always of interest to me as my own research involves the study of food and wine, and as I’ve worked in various positions of the food industry along with just about every stage of wine-making. As a PhD student attending AAA conferences, it was enlightening to learn about the various ways in which this French word has evolved as a concept, supported by pillars that integrate both physical and social elements. I became curious to know why this word was being used across languages and cultures in ways that created value, why it at times has been difficult to define, and the importance of it within food anthropology.

My own research, which intersects at language and food, led me to consider the ways in which the word terroir was being translated into Basque culture. The Basque Country, which in part covers a section of southwest France, is home for speakers of Euskera. I noticed that translations of the word terroir were increasing within the wine-producing regions of the Basque Country—known as Euskadi or Euskal Herria—but that there is yet a uniform translation. This led me to believe that these interpretations in their many forms embodied the translators’ preference for which element of the concept should be stressed, vacillating between the physical and social components that help define it.

In my own fieldwork, I observed that referencing the social components related to a product often occurred to distinguish it within its “sense of place”. To me, this indicated that translated uses of terroir relied on the importance of the social components of this culture as much as the physical ones, if not more.

To prepare for AAA 2017, organizing a panel seemed like a good way to learn even more about how often other researchers were coming across this word, what product or idea it was promoting, and how this idea was being conveyed in other spheres throughout the world. What I found through our panel with Anne Lally, Carole Counihan, Sharyn Jones, Daniel Shattuck, and Amy Trubek, was that this notion, although usually pertaining to food in its place, encompassed ideas that give us a lens to magnify issues that revolve around identity, ecology, health, and morality.  Perhaps it is the difficulty in defining this word that allows it to become such a useful tool for investigating such matters.  Stay tuned as we hope share our findings by developing our panel into a publication soon!

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