The faces of regionality: from “brutal local” to “local exotics”
Regional value chains and the substitution of local ingredients provide opportunities for greater resilience and sustainability in the food system, and are important factors in the food transition. Trends like “brutal local” and “local exotics” are showing the way.
The effects of global crises are bringing the topic of regionality to the fore and driving the food industry in new directions. But regionality is nothing new. It is based on a long tradition dating back to the 1980s. Since then, its terminology and character have evolved. This reinterpretation ranges from “brutal local”, an invention of avant-garde gastronomy, to “local exotics”, which refers to the local production of non-native plants and animals.
“Local food” and “new local” kick off the movement
In the 1990s, the European Economic Community (EEC) assigned many products names that were protected under the statutory foodstuff provisions, such as Prosciutto di Parma and Thüringer Rostbratwurst. At the same time and in response to increasing globalisation, consumers began to demand regionally produced foods. This led to the birth of the “local food” trend.
However, the new trend soon lost its exclusivity because it had to increasingly appeal to mass markets and thus became watered down. The consequence has been a return to core values. The term “new local” allows producer markets, food co-ops and urban farming to take centre stage.
“Brutal local” is the mother of invention
In Scandinavia, chefs René Redzepi and Claus Meyer began to examine their culinary heritage and introduced New Nordic Cuisine, which consisted of fresh, regional, seasonal and sustainably produced foods. They created dishes in which all the ingredients benefited solely from the particular region’s climate, water and soil. Avant-garde gastronomy seized on the idea, with the result that the trend gathered momentum in other parts of Europe and was labelled “brutal local”. This phrase was coined by the journalist Vijay Sapre to describe the unusual concept of the Berlin restauranteur, Billy Wagner. At Wagner’s eatery, “Nobelhart & Schmutzig”, only foods from the local region are prepared. “For example, we don’t use any olive oil, pepper or lemon. Menu concepts no longer dictate what will be served. Instead, what is cooked is primarily based on what nature currently has to offer,” says Wagner. The “local brutal” trend focuses on radical seasonality and wild food, meaning the treasure provided by untamed nature.
“Local exotics” bring home the exotic
Recently, the consequences of climate change and crises like the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the resulting supply bottlenecks have catapulted regionality to a new height. Products “from here” are given even more weight and have spawned the latest food trend – the local cultivation of exotic plants, known as “local exotics”, like quinoa, sweet potatoes and artichokes. The organic company Bananeira is embracing the trend and is launching Bavaria’s first chickpeas in a jar.
In addition to the cultivation of new raw materials, exotic ingredients are also increasingly replacing regional ingredients, as demonstrated by the Czech company Kojibakers with its new recipe for organic tamari. Instead of soy, this soy sauce is made from local peas or buckwheat.
Such is the response of the food industry and agriculture to consumers’ growing demand for culinary delights that are locally cultivated and produced.
Regional solutions for transforming the food system
The many faces of regionality highlight the tremendous potential of regional value creation while also drawing attention to the sometimes watered-down regionality concepts and the associated “regional washing”. For the organic sector, the emphasis on regionality is an opportunity to return to the original concept of organic: organically produced foods from the region. Organic and regional are an unbeatable combination when it comes to ecobalance, making them an essential element in the successful transformation of the food system.
References: zukunftsinsitut.de / Food Report 2024 by Hanni Rützler
3 questions for… Berlin’s gastronomy rebel
The “brutal local” chef on the importance of regionality for gastronomy and agriculture
1. Mr Wagner, you coined the unconventional phrase “brutal local” to describe your gastronomical concept. What exactly does it mean?
We buy locally and don’t use any pepper or lemon in our dishes. We know the people behind the food and aim to shape the region’s tastes. Micha Schäfer (Creative Director of the kitchen at the Nobelhart & Schmutzig restaurant) and his team know exactly where the food comes from. They get involved with the agriculture, and this hands-on approach results in an exchange and in the dishes themselves.
2. How did you become interested in consistently regional food?
When food is bought in season and hasn’t travelled very far, it’s often better than a banana that has been shipped around the globe, for example. At the same time, you can also discuss the product’s different phases, from the seed and its foliage to its storage, etc., with the people behind the product. For a banana, that possibility is extremely limited.
3. In your opinion, what needs to happen for the food system to become more inherently sustainable and for regional food and organic products to take on a greater role?
Regionality is important because it allows us to connect with the farmer. Organic is a given. We need to achieve more variety through small-scale agriculture. Small-scale agriculture breeds diversity. This increases the demands on food and, what’s very important for us, shapes the face of a region.