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What . . .

is terroir?
is local food?
are food miles?
is a locavore?
does sustainable mean?


Top 10 foods to . . .
source locally
grow at home


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A French word that translates as terrain, land or 'sense of place' and is used to embody how a region's climate, terrain, soil, and often too, way of life, produce a variety of foods with particular characteristics that cannot be found elsewhere.  Initially used, and still used to this day, terroir is key to describing and denoting a variety of wines - like Burgundy and Champagne wines.

Over the years, terroir has expanded across the European Union to include regulatory descriptions of not only wine, but also coffee, tea, olive oils, butters, cheeses, meats, honeys and breads. Terroir is also affected by the human decisions and farming techniques that create the final product. 

Terroir offers an opportunity to protect and savor our food's cultural heritage and promote local foods based on it's uniqueness and taste. While we're familiar with prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese - regional foods protected by terroir standards in Europe, the United States is well on it's way to establishing terroir with protections of the big names we have in Vermont maple syrup, Vidalia onions from Georgia, Idaho potatoes and Florida oranges.

But terroir is more than a marketing ploy - it is at its most effective when a small farm brings its wares to a local market tent and shares their story with a customer one on one.

Local Food
Local food is most often available through farmers markets, home or community gardens, hometown grocery stores and through farm subscriptions known as CSA's - or community supported agriculture. If you look at local food as a movement, it represents an opportunity to get back to our roots and eliminate the need for obtaining our food after it has passed through the chain of producers, wholesalers, shippers and commercial retailers.

It can be argued, and our tastebuds can confer, that local food tastes infinitely better, especially when we're selecting foods that have minimal human processing such as vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and poultry.  The caveat to this better taste comes at a cost to shelf-life, but it is a sacrifice that is worth it.  Major supporters of local food feel that creating a local food economy is a movement that will ultimately have a major impact on the well-being of a community.

Defining 'local' - in terms of an area - can  be a difficult task and is often left to personal interpretation.  Is local next door, down the street, or a day's drive away?  Still others consider local by a state's borders, and even wider by a region that shares a climate and soil characteristics - like the South, Midwest or New England.  With this latter view, local becomes a key part of defining terroir and can help promote and protect foodways and traditions.

Food Miles
Supporters of local food talk a lot about food miles, even to the point of trying to get foods labeled as to how far it took them to reach market. This is not only a matter of freshness, but a look at the big picture as to how food is impacting our environment. In simplest terms, the longer a food travels, the more fuel and energy it has expended.  But, recent studies contradict this simple assumption. Why? Because how the food is raised must also be considered  - and in some cases, this factor creates more of a carbon footprint than sending food across the seas. It's been found that reducing our carbon foot print, when it comes to food, can be more easily done by eating less meat and more fruits and vegetables.

If you try to source as much of your food as possible from a 50, 100 or 150 mile radius, you can probably call yourself a locavore.  The radius is arbitrary, as most locavores are simply persons who prefer to eat locally grown and produced food because of it's quality and taste. These are the consumers who do more of their weekly grocery shopping at the farmers markets on the weekend.  In 2007, the Oxford American Dictionary named locavore as their word of the year.

Choosing sustainable foods is a movement unto itself, and while it does often tie into sourcing local foods and preserving terroir, sustainability incorporates a wide range of concerns including food additives, air pollution, animal welfare; antibiotic, pesticide and hormone use; preserving heirloom varieties and biodiversity in our plants and animals; the affects and effects of climate change; the environmental effects and economics relating to family farms and factory farms; food safety including irradiation; how much fuel and energy is expended to produce and transport food; eliminating cloning and genetic engineering; ensuring that 'organic' does not become just a marketing strategy or label; whether food is processed humanely; reducing waste and pollution; and even, finding opportunities to eliminate poverty and hunger.

Copyright 2009.