If you choose to attend TerraVita Food & Drink Festivala foodie’s dream with grand buffets and heavy bacchanaliayou may find yourself surprised by how it also feeds your soul in unexpected ways.

For one, you feel the ethos behind the event that sole organizer Colleen Minton has uplifted since she started the festival in 2010: a commitment to highlighting local food and sustainability.

“Our food system is something that we as a culture need to address,” says Minton.

The eighth TerraVita festival takes places October 18-21. It’s a whirlwind of learning, even when you’re mingling with our area’s greatest chefs and devouring their beautiful food.

What’s great about TerraVita is that it doesn’t shy away from truths but, in Southern fashion, does so with grace. Take the sustainable classroom portion (a day pass costs eighty dollars). In the case of Southern food, those of us who live here, who are from here, and who value its history and culture aren’t surprised about its sudden revival in high-end culinary spaces. The “curriculum,” so to speak, that Minton puts together every year includes pushing for real conversations about food traditions that elevate the people who have historically made our region so diverse. The zero-waste festival uses food to draw people into a greater understanding of how our food system worksfrom environmental factors to social implications.

“[People] have an opportunity to impact the bigger picture,” says Minton. “But if they feel they have to compromise on something, they automatically shut it down. This gives people an in. This is their gateway.”

Like last year, when three scholars and cooksSandra Gutierrez, Malinda Maynor Lowrey, and Toni Tipton Martinled an entire classroom through a thrilling conversation about race, ethnicity, and gender in the food world over communal platters of three types of cornbread, each representing our diverse indigenous roots.

This year’s classroom lineup includes talks (and tastes of) everything from pie, vegetarianism, soul food, Appalachian cuisine, social justice, and sustainable aquaculture.

The dinners range from $75 to $120. The firstHill Fire: Coastal Roastoffers a fire-themed menu with an array of Southern chefs, including locals Cheetie Kumar (Garland), Scott Crawford (Crawford and Son), Teddy Diggs (Il Palio), Lionel Vatinet (La Farm Bakery), and Gabe Barker (Pizzeria Mercato). The Seasoned in the South dinner pays tribute to Crook’s Corner chef Bill Smith, featuring friends of Smith, like cookbook author and chef Sheri Castle and Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer/A Chef’s Life fame. The Grand Tasting on the Green closes the festival with an extravagant buffet of more than forty chefs and eighty food artisans. All events are hosted in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. For more information, visit www.terravitafest.com.