Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

According to a report by the NRDC, the United States wastes a staggering 40% of all food produced. That works out to $165 billion of uneaten food each year! Organic matter is the largest solid component of our landfills, and between unsold produce and tossed meals, we glut our dumps and fritter away precious resources. Luckily, some enterprising chefs and bloggers are working towards changing attitudes and practices towards how we treat what we eat.

Culinary Misfits- Hailing from Germany, catering company Culinary Misfits uses fruits and vegetables that the supermarkets and restaurants reject. Misshapen or discolored, the produce is still perfectly good, and suited for such meals as “crooked parsnip” or “twisted cucumber soup”. Founded by Lea Emma Brumsack and Tanja Krakowski, the duo began their careers studying product design. After becoming interested in the urban consumerism and the waste surrounding food production, they opened their business in 2012. Presenting their creations on rescued thrift store dishes, the Culinary Misfits transform unloved vegetables into delicious fare.

Waste Cooking- Usually, you associate reality TV with gross-out antics and poor social behavior. Yet, in Waste Cooking, enterprising dumpster divers and chefs look to Austria’s organic waste bins for materials to make amazing meals. Creator and director David Gross was appalled at the amount of perfectly good food he found chucked into the trash of his native country, and decided that he needed to do something to publicize the nearly 105,000 tons Austrians discarded each year. The episodes, which can be found online through their website, begin with divers roaming the streets by bicycle at night to “shop” for their ingredients. Later, blogger and cook Tobias Judmaier crafts the produce, meats, and cheeses into meals presented in a public place. Upon learning the food’s origins, some are enticed, others are disgusted, but all are more aware of their consumption habits.

GleanSLO- A little closer to home, GleanSLO takes advantage of the bounty of the Central Coast and harvests unwanted fruits and vegetables around the county for the SLO Food Bank. A group of dedicated volunteers gather at farms for a couple of hours throughout the week and donate their time and labor to help feed to hungry. In addition to the feeling of a job well done, participants also get to meet their fellow community members and often take home excess food for themselves. The farmers get a tax credit and cleanup, empty stomachs get healthy and high-quality groceries, and gleaners get a great workout and some treats to take with them.

The orderly and hardworking good people of Germany recently had the pleasure of welcoming me as their guest and kin, and it was with due interest and Wanderlust that I admired their seasonably verdant landscapes and observed their distinctively indigenous customs. Coming from a land of wide open spaces, perpetual sunshine and shameless consumption, I can’t help but marvel over the northern European’s congenital capacity for sensible pragmatism and efficiency.

With our sight-seeing ambitions stifled by inclement weather, I resigned myself to spending most of my short stay immersed in quotidian Germanic living, viewing rural and urban scenery from the front seat of an immaculate Audi station wagon and sampling the beers, breads and bon mots around various dining room tables.

While I would have liked to have stayed abroad at least twice as long, I did my best to perk my ears and eyes to detect all of the most subtle cultural nuances, with a particular nose for attitudes and practices that reflect a more sustainable way of life. Quickly I discover many pertinent examples.

No sooner were we out of Frankfurt (home to central Europe’s busiest airport) and en route to the Hinterlands, than I am struck by the ubiquity of roadside windmills. It’s only been a year and a half since my last trip to Germany, but the increased presence of wind generators is as conspicuous and impressive as the stable of German-engineered horses that power our Audi swiftly down the Autobahn.

Moreover, the construction of these renewable energy platforms represents far more than a mere symbol or Quixotic gesture against petro-hegemony; Germany has in fact committed to closing all its nuclear power plants within the decade. This decision came in response to the Fukushima disaster, but would have been undreamable without Germany’s longtime commitment to renewable alternatives like wind and solar. Giant swaths of photovoltaic panels also appear throughout the country, oftentimes right alongside the Autobahn, areas that are uninhabitable but very accessible. (It’s like they actually put some forethought into this.)

Even so, weaning off of nuclear will not be an easy transition. They’re already complaining  — complaining is one of their great national pastimes, after all — about the imminent rise of energy prices. And the fact that neighboring France hasn’t leaked so much as a whisper about closing any of its 59 nuke plants has many Germans feeling like they’re getting the sticky end of the Schadenfreude.

Gassing up the Audi at the filling station we get another stultifying reminder of high energy costs. 1.47 Euros per liter. That’s about 8 bucks a gallon! European diesel burns somewhat more efficiently however, and the benefits are reaped when we hop on the Autobahn and do 220 km/hr, or 135 mph. Whee. Fortunately, German drivers are mindful to use luxury items like turn signals and slow lanes appropriately, and roads are very well maintained, so we feel perfectly safe, even with our one-year-old Wunderkind in the back seat. As far as diminished fuel economy at high speeds is concerned, standard manual transmissions on new German cars now have six gears (plus reverse), and seven-speed automatics are not uncommon.

A trip to the supermarket yields more surprises. For one thing, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not the leading ingredient throughout the store; in fact, it is nowhere to be found. USDA farm subsidies have yet to flood European markets with this dubious sweetener. They still rely on good old sugar, generally derived from native sugar beets, as opposed to the cane sugar that Americans extract from the Third World (and Florida). Neither does HFCS’s partner in crime, the super-sized soft drink, appear on the scene.

Other evidence also suggests that corporate policy makers do not run the country. Bound by government regulations, bio-chemical companies can’t stuff your groceries with genetically engineered constituents without stating as much on the packaging. Europeans have expressed an interest in knowing what sort of ingredients and technologies go into their foods, and food producers have been made to comply. Even where profits may be jeopardized, the public interest comes first.

Banking regulations, as further example, make it harder to get credit cards and for non-residents to open bank accounts. Consequently, Germans do not see the same sort of predatory lending practices and Ponzi pyramids to the sky, nor the kind of billionaire investor class that we have, all of which conspire to drive a deep wedge into the socio-economic strata and widen the yawning wealth gap. But statistics do suggest that Germans’ personal debt ratios are quickly gaining on ours. Despite their pragmatic proclivities, the temptation to indulge now and pay later can be difficult to resist, especially in times like these.

Finally, returning home from the market, we cram our groceries into the fridge, a moderately-sized kitchen appliance that many Americans would confuse with a dish cupboard. And yet there is ample room to accommodate our fresh produce. For some reason, the German fridge is not overflowing with odds and ends boasting decade-long shelf-lives, and so does not need to be the size of a walk-in closet.

Smaller cars and smaller refrigerators. Larger wind and photovoltaic power stations. Narrower traffic lanes and waistlines (though growing). Wider selections of beer and finally, of preeminent importance to the beleaguered globetrotter, bathtubs deep enough to get your neck wet. And now that we’ve reached the bathroom, I could launch into my polemic on the superiority of German toilets, but alas, no. All I can say is: tanks but no tanks.

If I’d had a little more time, I probably would have visited a doctor for a regular check-up, maybe seen a dentist. Might have even enrolled my daughter in a good multi-lingual pre-school. But no. I’m a product of the Central Coast, a victim of the slo life, and have not the temperament for efficiency, discipline or weather. Remove me from the happiest city in America for more than a week, and I’m utterly helpless.

X