Monday, April 1st, 2013...4:26 am

Taste of Place, not quite to my taste

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In Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir, Amy Trubek looks at the definitions and manifestations of “terroir,” or the idea that one can taste the place in which a product was produced.  The term “terroir” is often used to describe flavors and varieties of wine, so Trubek appropriately begins with an examination of terroir in France’s wine-making regions, but expands on her observations with examples from other products the United States. Across the distances between the locations of her various examples, she shows how the idea of terroir can have different meanings and implications in terms of culture, politics, economics, environment, and science. Ultimately, the reader comes to understand terroir as a multi-faceted idea that is itself largely dependent on where it is being used, but generally refers to how the process and place is made knowable in the product.

It was evident that Trubek was writing in the spirit of terroir. She attempted to bring the readers in to the places she was describing by detailing the landscape and scenery. While the intention was good, I found it made the book a labor to read. I felt like I was sorting through extraneous details that weighed down the book to identify her thesis. In addition to lengthy and repetitive landscape descriptions, I also found myself irritated at her almost excessive use of vocabulary and jargon. Upon finishing the book, I was not immediately or entirely sure what her final conclusion was, partially because I had been so distracted by too much extra information.

Despite these things, Trubek’s book is still a thorough and valuable examination of the concept of terroir. As someone interested in ideas about localness and globalness, I was able to appreciate her book for how it demonstrates values about localness in a global world, looks at mechanisms with which to ensure or label localness, and presents dialogues happening around and about these ideas and implementations. She was not afraid to grapple with the paradoxes presented by the idea of the taste of place, addressing questions like how practice was actually meeting perception, or how terroir fits into American food habits. However, instead of verbose landscape descriptions, I would have liked to see Trubek deal a little more in depth perhaps about the consumer side of things. Is what is being made knowable being known? What messages being conveyed are actually being received? She does not necessarily ignore the consumer, but her ethnographic work focuses much more on the producers of the definitions of terrior and of food and drink to be sold under the values of terroir.

Ultimately, I found Taste of Place to be helpful in considering who is producing ideas about localness, and what social and cultural factors feed these ideas. Such considerations are crucial to a thoughtful and encompassing local food movement. In exploring the concept of terroir, Trubek also takes the reader further into dialogues about resistances of or alternatives to the industrial food system. Her book both reveals and presents the value and usefulness of having a cultural/scientific/political designation of taste. By exploring terroir in a variety of places and through a variety of products, Trubek has contributed an important analysis of the levels to which culture, science, and politics shape conceptions of terroir, and what terroir, in turn, does to producer and consumers’ value systems.

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