The past, present and the future of our Terroir
What do you think of the term 'terroir' with regard to Flanders and the culinary identity of Belgium?
Peter: "The term 'terroir' is in any case a very discussed subject, with many different opinions. In my opinion it is very relevant to attach a moment in time here. It is a living thing that is subject to change; the products that Flemish people ate in the Middle Ages, early 19th century, or today, are very different. Is terroir something that is about what grows naturally here? The potato can not be ignored from Flemish cuisine, but was brought back from South America in the time of colonization around the 15th century. Can that be counted in our terroir? Similarly the tomato; The Netherlands and Belgium are the largest fresh tomato eaters in Europe and also the largest producers, but this was unthinkable about 100 years ago. So your choice to take 1958 as a starting point, as a snapshot in time - after the Second World War and before the big industrialization / globalization wave - and to compare this with the present, as a second snapshot, seems interesting to me. Certain products have emerged that are considered typically Flemish - such as chicory - but that is a relatively new product, discovered in the last century. Yet, within this framework, it is certainly part of the terroir of Flanders. "
"Your choice to take 1958 as a starting point and to compare this with the present – as a second snapshot – seems interesting to me."
Is there a clearly defined taste palette with regard to this area?
"Of course that is also a question that is related to the moment in time that we are talking about; Mangoes and coriander are now abundantly available in the supermarket and can no longer be ignored from the diet of the current, well-to-do consumer. A still untraceable ingredient 30 years ago is now available everywhere, but what if local companies now also grow that coriander? Will this be part of the terroir? My specialization lies in knowledge of the past and the knowledge of those dishes, and we have often seen new ingredients coming into our kitchens that have subsequently become part of our culinary identity."
In your opinion, where did the major shifts in the used products and habits take place since the Second World War? What have been the big 'game changers'; in particular, the economic change, trade relations that have been important to Flanders, or scientific discoveries?
"After World War II - a period where people were really hungry - there was a period of national pride in a bruised Belgium. This was reflected in the cookbooks that were published at that time; many references to local, traditional and traditional recipes. Throughout the decades, a period of economic growth, tourism, different cultures and a desire for innovation, you see that the Belgian is open to innovation in the kitchen. This was then reduced again when the trust in our food system suddenly became a matter of debate; issues such as diseases among farm animals and scandals surrounding pesticides have contributed to this. You now clearly see a craving for local products and producers from the population, and a revaluation for Flemish recipes, whatever that may mean today. The terroir is - just like its people - constantly in motion."
"You now clearly see a craving for local products and producers from the population, and a revaluation for Flemish recipes."
Where do you see this development going in the future? Are there major changes in the social / economic / political field that will influence the way of eating and the relation to eating in Flanders? (Certainly when we look at the new tendencies around local food, short-chain economy and sustainability)
"You can now see that companies such as small-scale beer brewers, but also hobbyists, who grow old grains, are making a big step forward. This also has an impact on the products that are in the supermarket. What you see now is that there is often communication about artisanal, traditional, local and traditional. This means that the entire population comes into contact with these products and that the general quality of, for example, bread will be higher. But quality can not go up without the price going up; it is, of course, a more intensive production process. And the question is how consumers will deal with this. Are they willing to spend 5% more on their food? This is at the expense of their overall standard of living; fewer holidays, less shopping. Are we willing to have less if the quality of what we have is better? That will be the big one ask. And in my opinion, the answer lies in creating a personal necessity. If you see how large the shelf of gluten-free products in the supermarkets is at the moment, knowing that only 3% of the population is really allergic, then you can clearly see the effect of trendsetters like celebrities on the diet of the population. The population does not make this choice because it has received the right education, but because it is a trend. Because it is made relevant in the media and therefore in the daily lives of people. It would be nice if that could also be done with relevant topics such as biodiversity and short-chain economics.”
“What you see now is that there is often communication about artisanal, traditional, local and traditional.”
What will this have for effect on the culinary identity of Flanders / Belgium? Do you see for yourself that this will be more divided or more cohesive, or perhaps as part of a larger whole, for example Europe?
"What you see is that the top chefs are very busy with two subjects; local and season. They know their cheese maker and butcher again and only buy products that are in season, the top quality that the region has to offer. This is, of course, a very interesting development. The question then is to what extent this will trickle down into the average Flemish kitchen. If we look at the Nouvelle Cuisine of the 70s, it is still not fully implemented in the household kitchens. On the other hand, the top chefs now have larger issues that are of global importance and reach far beyond the kitchen. Topics such as sustainability, fair prices for producers, local economy, etc. So perhaps this time the support base is and will be greater.”
“It seems that the focus on local products will mainly lead to more biodiversity and more regional products, but I think that this will be mixed with worldwide products that will be produced locally.”
“The question of whether the local consumer would want to get rid of his passion fruit from Peru or strawberries in the winter is of course a logical idea, which I would like to answer with a counter-question; could these passion fruits become part of the Flemish terroir? If they grow in our greenhouses, and thus minimize CO2 emissions, why not? It seems that the focus on local products will mainly provide more biodiversity and more regional products, but I think this will be mixed with worldwide products that will be produced locally. But who knows, in the end I am a historian who just like you, is very curious about what will happen next. ”