The modern world is characterized by a global reality, a blurring of boundaries and a spillover of raw materials, knowledge and people from one end of the world to another. In the past, people in every settlement and village only had access to the vegetables, meat, and cheeses they or their neighbors grew, herded, and produced. Today, technology enables the transportation of raw ingredients of all kinds — from anywhere and everywhere around the globe. Cooking traditions that used to be passed down through relatives are today accessible through books, websites and TikTok videos. All of this complicates the question of what does local food mean in our modern global reality? The idea of local food in Israel — where food is already a complex and sometimes divisive topic — is perhaps even more challenging.
On the last Thursday of 2022, we met at Asif for an entire day dedicated to the concept of “local food” in the context of Israel’s food culture. Throughout the day, we tried to answer the question “What does eating locally mean in here?” We invited experts from different fields and disciplines to present their perspectives and, together with Asif’s professional audiences, we deconstructed and reassembled the concept on a variety of levels. We presented a wide array of answers to this question and raised additional questions for thought.
Local Food in Crisis
The day began at Asif’s auditorium with the morning session “Local Food in Crisis,” a panel with four different perspectives on the topic — sociological, anthropological, agricultural, and governmental — all through the prisms of the climate crisis and an identity crisis. We heard a lecture about the so-called “hijacking of sustainability by the industry” and “Local Food 2.0” offered view into some of Israel’s most prominent foodtech companies and the ‘local’ aspect of the products they are developing. Read the summary and watch the recording here.
In the lunch session, we led two conversations about the representation of the local food culture in media, from docu-food to TikTok. A panel discussed the ways local cuisine is represented in non-fiction film and television in Israel, and an intimate conversation discussed the communication of complex messaging around local food on social platforms. Check out a synopsis and watch the recording here.
Alongside the theoretical part of Yom Asif, we explored local food through the Asif test kitchen with a series of tastings and lectures.
Tasting Terroir in the Land of Olives
The day began with an olive oil tasting led by olive oil expert Ehud Soriano. During the lecture, Soriano explained how different regions can be identified through the sense of taste. Through the tasting we learned about the impact of the terroir on the flavor and quality of the olive oil. Participants tasted four types of Koroneiki olive oil cultivated in different regions in Israel, and acquired a new perspective on one of the most prominent raw ingredients on the Israeli plate. For more reading on olive oils and terroir, click here.
Bible to Table
Later on, Dr. Tova Dickstein, a biblical food researcher, shared her long-term research in the field. Together with chef and food writer Maya Darin, the participants embarked on a rich culinary journey that began thousands of years ago and elements of which are still seen in the local food here today. For more reading, click here.
Beyond the Jaffa Orange
We closed out the day with Dr. Ron Porat and Yossi Niv, who arrived straight from the laboratories and orchards of the Volcani Center to give participants a taste of citrus varieties that aren’t on the market yet. During their lecture, they revealed the improvement process fruits go through at the Volcani Center, and the future of the long-standing breeding program that has produced some of the world’s best-selling fruits. Read more about this.