Eat Dirt! Earth & Soil Effects on Food Quality

laura parker a taste of place

At one time, all farmers knew the easiest way to test and correct the pH of their farm’s soil: they tasted it. While it’s something of a lost art now, installation artist Laura Parker is offering a new generation an entirely new way to connect with their food. Her traveling event “A Taste of Place” seeks to bring grower and consumer together by showing consumers that the ground their food grows in or on has a deep effect on how the resulting food tastes.

a taste of place dirt

It was nearly a decade ago that Parker realized how disconnected farmers and their food are from the public. Unless a chef or an artist brings attention to the origins of the food, consumers simply dismiss them. Parker began a journey to reconnect the earth, the farm, and those who eat the fruits of the farmers’ labor. She now travels with her exhibition, providing samples of soil from nearby organic farms along with food grown on those farms.

a taste of place dirt samples

The food could be leafy greens grown right in the dirt, cheese from animals who graze on the grounds, eggs from chickens raised on the farms, or anything else that carries with it the taste of its origins. But unlike farmers of generations past, participants are not expected to swish around a mouthful of dirt. Since three-quarters of our sense of taste is actually smell, simply experiencing the aroma of the soil is enough. Participants are provided with goblets full of soil from each farm and given “tasting notes” that give an insight into exactly what they may experience.

a taste of place soil samples

(images via: Edible Geography)

The language used in the tasting notes strongly resembles that used for tasting fine wines. Words like earthy, grassy, olive, mineral, cream and pine mingle with descriptions of the soil’s texture. After breathing in the aromas of the earth, participants sample foods from the corresponding organic farm and try to detect the same qualities that they found in the soil. And, not surprisingly, many can. Whether it is because of the power of suggestion or because the taste of our food really is closely linked to its origins, people who have experienced Parker’s installation agree: those smoky, heady, mossy and other flavors carry through to the finished product.