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Bringing terroir back to the roots? A methodological proposal for studying local food products

Lucile Garçon (Laboratory of Rural Studies, Lyon, France)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 27 November 2019

Issue publication date: 27 November 2019



In line with various scientific papers warning against an inconsistent use of this adjective for food qualification, the purpose of this paper is to point out the sweeping assertion that “local” equates to “ecological”.


Looking beyond the measurement of carbon emissions to assess impacts on the environment, this paper addresses ecological issues in terms of interactions with the environment. To this end, it enhances an under-the-skin approach that goes through “local” fruit and vegetables to look into seed management and plant breeding practices.


This method, tested with 2 vegetative species – apple and potato – on 12 case studies in Europe, allows to build a typology that discriminates between: producing food without reproducing plants, grafting trees and storing tubers for maintaining landraces, and sowing seeds to restart the breeding process from the early beginning, trying in this way to enhance the capacity of plants to better fit with their environment. The typology matches a gradient that describes various degrees of intensity of environment–society relationships, from disconnection to adaptation – conceived on the one hand as already stabilized and on the other hand as still evolving.

Research limitations/implications

This analytical framework sheds light on contradictions that many local food networks have to face while yearning for a recognition by a geographical indication.


The paper argues that vegetal material might be a fruitful research object for tracking the controversies that unfold along the construction of local food products. It discusses social constructivist approaches of terroir while advocating for a materialist approach.



This research was partially supported by the Rhône-Alpes Region through a PhD scholarship provided to the Lab of Rural Studies (LER). The author expresses her gratitude to the reviewers for their contributions to this article through insightful comments that helped her clarify her ideas. The author also wishes to thank Virginie Amilien and Pascale Moity-Maïzi for encouraging her throughout this writing process to publish her research.

This paper forms part of a special section “Controversy and sustainability for localised agrofood systems: thinking a dynamic link”.


Garçon, L. (2019), "Bringing terroir back to the roots? A methodological proposal for studying local food products", British Food Journal, Vol. 121 No. 12, pp. 3089-3101.



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