Terroir and HumanityPosted: February 18, 2015
We’re doing a history unit on the pre-Roman Celts (a bit deep for 2nd and 3rd graders, I know) and what’s struck me about them is their powerful sense of place. Few things were sacred except places. The Celts first emerged as a distinct people in the headwaters of the Danube, in what is now the Black Forest of Germany. The Danube gets its name from Danu, the mother/water goddess whose waters flowed out from within the earth in the time of primordial chaos. Her waters nourished Bile, the sacred oak, from which sprang the gods and goddesses. From Dyaus, the bright-one, sprang (they believed) the Celts themselves.
In pre-modern times, situating a house relative to water was absolutely crucial. Ben Falk has a wonderful discussion of how do analyze a site’s hydrology before building in his The Resilient Farm and Homestead. Wherever humans went, they had to keep water close to hand. The Celts took it to another level.
Because of the importance of Danu, the primary river, stream, or spring of any place had sacred power. The chief of that tribe, before ascending, had to bathe in the waters as a form of ritual marriage with the divine. They might have believed all Celts were descended from Dyaus, but for the chiefs, a special connection with the divine was required. The water of a place is what made life possible. By wedding himself to that water, the chief became wedded to the land, and thus his people.
Few Americans in modern times are wedded to the land. Not the land they currently occupy, nor even land in a vague sense. We get food from the supermarket, not from the earth. We get water from the faucet and shit back into the same water supply.* Little is sacred.
Terroir is a French term for the way the entire mini cosmos of a farm affects the way plant genetics express themselves. From temperature to rainfall to the incredible web of microscopic soil creatures – everything plays a role in how the fruit forms and tastes. Take a true seed or a cloned cutting to a new climate and the plant may end up quite different. Change the place, and you change the thing born from it.
Epigenetics is a very new field that even the most advanced current science barely understands, but it proves to be very powerful. Nutrition has a powerful role in genetic expression. Nutrition comes from the earth and the waters, from the terroir we inhabit. We must return to having a concept of place as sacred, as important, as worthy of stewardship.
How can we survive as a species if we have no stake in the web of creatures which nourish us?
*Read The Humanure Handbook if you want an excellent discussion of the insanity of water-based sewage treatment. Changing this is something I would like to work on, but the Alchemist has vetoed it to date. We’ll see where it goes 🙂