On #Commodity and #Terroir

Today we’re going to talk about commodities. What is a commodity? When goods and services are traded on the grand scale for other goods and services, they become “commodities.” One characteristic of a commodity is that its price is determined not by quality, but by demand. The greater the demand, the greater the market. That’s what determines whether an item is a commodity.

Examples of commodities include coal, salt, sugar, tea, coffee beans, soybeans, rice, wheat, aluminum, gold silver, iron ore, crude oil. Commodities from different producers are considered of more-or-less uniform quality, and are therefore equivalent.

The concept of commodity lies 180 degrees opposite from the concept of “terroir,” in which a food item is so profoundly influenced by the place from which it originates that its location is an integral part of its identity and flavor. It simply cannot come from somewhere else. Note how terroir [French] resembles territory and terrain [English] and tierra [Spanish], all of which are derived from terra [Latin], or earth. Components of terroir include climate, soil type, elevation, landscape, and even other plants growing nearby.

The identities of foods and drink such as cognac, champagne, oolong tea, Iberian ham, heirloom tomatoes, heritage wheat, chocolate, hops and Parmigiana cheese are so closely linked to their places of origin that they are actually a part of them. You could try to grow the raw materials and create the finished product elsewhere, and it might even be similar, but it would never be the same. In that one small corner of the world, it’s all about the angle of the sun, the direction of the rain, the particular characteristics of the soil, and the oak that grows there, along with the acorns it produces to feed the pig or goose who lives there.

Terroir is a joy, a special occasion, a treat, a memory. It would be unusual to have access to this level of food on a daily basis. But you can use the concept to understand better why commodities are less likely to be a quality product. How could they be?

Terroir is all about quality-over-quantity and cannot be duplicated; commodity, in contrast, is more accurately described as quantity-over-quality, without regard to the source. Commodities are defined not by some underlying quality specific to the product, but by a standard stated in the contract to supply that commodity. They are not about quality, value or taste. They are not about nutrition.

To the extent that you can decrease the amount of commodities you eat (in the form of large-scale production of processed wheat, soy, corn and rice products) and replace them with foods for which quality is a higher priority, you should expect to reap the benefits.

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