When I was invited to speak at the 11th Annual Terroir Symposium 2017, Arlene Stein asked four of us, "What does terroir tell us?"
This is my fourteen minute talk answering Terroir's Director, Arlene.
When we go out in search of Terroir, what do we find, but ourselves?
New values emerge and old values evolve as I connect with terroir.
What terroir tells me, is that our most valuable work is creating a life that supports Terroir. Life is a stage, or a ground to experience terroir. In the process of connecting with it, our oneness with terroir is endlessly shown to me.
In the Okanagan the younger generations moving to or considering a move to the valley, have one major overriding complaint or fear that I hear constantly. “Is there enough to do?, What restaurants can I eat at, what happens in the winter?” Sometimes I want to turn them upside down so they might see things differently. But that is just what Terroir will do, if they just engage and begin the process of knowing it.
Once one actually connects to the idea of experiencing terroir, suddenly this world of wonder fills the vacuum of “what is missing”. There is a kind of surrender that needs to happen. I have experienced my own passage through this.
Where I live, in the Okanagan we have a rare opportunity to really hear what terroir tells us. We drive by our food sources on the way to work, we know a guy who knows a guy who grew our tomatoes or who made our wine.
Because we are a relatively young community in the Okanagan, we have a chance to build a system and a community that supports a terroir-driven experience, which to me is primarily supported by living in, and consuming that which is close to you, that which is local. To live with what we are made of, that is, food, air, sights and sounds - to live where our food grows and is cultivated, breathing what it all breathes, and to feel the seasons the way all that that sustenance does, is awakening. It is primally connecting.
I’ve recently taken further steps into this union, as I have come to realize that it is, to deepen my connection by a self-imposed commitment to only shop from farmers’ markets, or direct from farms and artisans for a year. Through the four seasons - a complete cycle.
Doing this takes a lot of time. I am constantly busy! Preparing and planning for food daily, whether gathering or making it is an all-day pre-occupation if not an actual task at hand. This slowing down literally is magic. It is the healing we all need. It’s not a nuisance. It's not a waste of time. It’s the elixir needed, as I am experiencing it. The vacuum is filled, where is there time for depression or anxiety? When the "small things" aren’t valued we rush through and miss the treasure, the psychological nurturing and wealth that self care provides to us, should we just give our time over to it, to immerse in the experience of terroir, receptive to its gifts, rather than heading to fast food and television. Family time and engagement with friends is richer in a positive act, of say, walking the market or making dinner, rather than gossiping in the “waiting” time while a server brings you a drink.
In the process of gathering food with my current intentions of market eating, I speak with the growers, I hear the weekly or daily challenges and successes of weather, family issues, personal issues, community issues, you name it. They’re the stories that make it over the market table in conversations with my “providers”. We have bonds now. To me that isn’t small. The stories are IN the food. When I am at home preparing the food- that energy is with me - then it is shared with whomever I feed. This to me has “taste” and expresses nature and love, beautiful facets of Terroir.
Im often reminded of something I heard quite early in life, while I was studying vedanta or hindu religion as a yoga student. The tradition of some hindu men in a certain phase of life is to only eat the food that his wife has prepared. Symbolically, it is ideal to me, keeping the cycle of connection and shared energy close, relatable. From the seed, from the ground up, food is collecting energy. When we eat this food, this energy becomes us, we are what we eat.
So, with all this idealism there has got to be some balance. The sad side of eating, our industrialized food processes and eating habits, weigh heavy. The whole system has raped the soulful experience of nurturing ourselves. We have been turned upside down - roots pulled up. We’ve been taught to simply seek flavour. Or worse, the idea of a flavour. We don’t reflexively or intuitively know the emergent bottom-up kind of experience of flavour of an ingredient that was grown, cultivated, cultured or artisanally crafted, which imparts terroir, which should be almost surprising in it’s uniqueness each time, in each space and each space of time. We are taught to expect something compartmentalized, predefined.
We can’t have pineapples in December in Canada. Not if we want to experience true terroir. That pineapple would have been prematurely plucked out of its very own nature, so it’s not really a pineapple anymore. I believe the environment where that pineapple is from is where we are meant to truly enjoy the pineapple - to know its pineappleness.
I live in an incredible growing region. We are living from the same elements that our food - that is if we choose to eat locally and seasonally - comes from. I know it isn’t an opportunity for everyone, but it is one that I currently have and have slowly merged into. Now its like a love affair, that will last as long as I stay present in the relationship.
The famous quote by Brillat Savarin, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”, is perfect, especially in context to terroir.
Each of us is like a vine, or a tree - taking and transforming the elements then giving back our personal expression of terroir, the inputs become us.
How do you think you taste?
It is a worthwhile question to ponder.
Compassion has a sweetness. Our lives become more delicious as our values change and we begin to live in accordance with the natural cycles, we realize where the terroir experience is to be found, and also how deep the well is to find nourishment from, both physically and spiritually.
Our personalities become sweeter, our relationships with all that we live with flow better, when we move with what is available rather than impose an externally need (like a pineapple in December in Canada).
I am going to enjoy many pineapples, and lemons, and olive oil, and sea salt, and avocados, maybe not this -my market committed year - but I am going to and I will do so with the awareness of how it got to me, and what it’s true cost is.
In Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate, Dan recalls a PBS interview he was in with Dennis Avery, an agricultural analyst, the PBS host asked, would you shop for all your food at local farmers markets if you could? Both Dan and Dennis answered, “Yes”. The PBS host went on to explain this problem. 100’s of millions of tons of food are needed everyday. If everyone in say, New York City was to try to buy food from the back of a farmer’s pick up truck, then the entire city would shut down. .. It would be mayhem with farm trucks and shoppers all out for the food transaction.
This is where Dan went on to talk about the middle ground between farmers’ markets and the industrialized food system. That is not for this talk today from me, but I love this subject, because it is where most people reside in their food consumption ability, and it is where most change can happen.
So, I realize I am blessed, and it brings me back full circle, to what it is to live outside a city, with “less”. My time in the Okanagan has been exquisite. It has been a meditation, a clumsy one at times with many fumbles toward an awakening to my own nature, and the attunement to understanding that I am of the Terroir. My expression of it has evolved, integrated, become sweeter, and deeper in the 8 years that I have lived back in the Okanagan. Much of this time has been an oscillating resistance-then-surrender process to the cadence and flow of life. I moved back to Vancouver a couple of times, I had a stint in Brooklyn, and just generally had moments acutely feeling “out of my skin”.
The sense of place, the terroir has finally worked its magic with me though. I’ve surrendered enough to let the environment guide me more, to inspire me to cultivate a life in its honour. The fruit is proverbially ripening on the vine. It is just about time to make wine. I think of it this way sometimes - First I loved the flavour of a chef’s creation. I explored the culture and traditions of where the dish came from, then the ingredients, then I got curious about how the ingredients grew, then I learned about the farmers, and then the soil and water and air. We fall in love with the surface, then work our way down to the roots, and its only once we reach this kind of love or understanding of the full picture, that we can re-emerge, to truly work as masters at anything. From the ground up.
I am sharing to perhaps inspire you to explore your own sense of place, to deepen your own connections with your environmental inputs including your loved ones, the food, the water… and to feel how that literally cultivates joy in your everyday.
Maybe you will be called to move to the Okanagan, or Prince Edward County or New Foundland. Maybe you will move onto a fishing boat.
Or maybe you will live in a city and make different decisions about your chosen “inputs”, the ingredients you are made of, to work more with your own expression of terroir.
As I am experiencing this union with terroir, terroir is calling me to the moment. This is exactly where terroir is, and it is exactly what terroir is telling us. Get present, and be inspired to work with your own terroir, your unique flavour in the world.