Do You Know What You Are Eating?

This blog is Odd Guides -I have decided to extend the title and include other topics which is why I am going to explore not food, but consumption habits.

There is a lot of information out there already about eating clean, an absolute plethora of blogs, articles, think tanks and plenty of people much wiser than any of us who make a living from telling us what is good for us.

Yet the one thing that is avoided for most part is the practicality of it all.

It is easy to say, “eat whole grain, avoid packaged food, become a vegetarian 5 days a week, it’s good for you.” We all know that. Yet most of us don’t have the conviction to follow through.

So let me tell you a story..

Last year, I needed to buy garlic. So, like everyone else, I went to my local supermarket to buy the missing item.

Because I live with a rather moderate budget, what struck me however, wasn’t the 90 cents it was the origin of the garlic.

The Netherlands and Spain. Imported garlic.

Switzerland grows garlic – so why is a local product not available in my store? The answer lies in supply and demand – Switzerland can’t produce enough garlic to cover the needs of all the people in the entire country so there has to be imports. Yet two imports of one item and not a single Swiss garlic bulb in sight.

So the idea came to light – what if I went the whole way and only bought local and in the bargain, only seasonal? The other question is – is it possible to cover all dietary needs with seasonal produce and how much do I have to give up?

At the same time, my daughter and I were discussing palm oil and wanted to eliminate it completely from our lives. So not only were were setting ourselves the challenge to stop using palm oil in all ways we were also setting ourselves the goal of going local.

Now living in Switzerland has it’s advantages, especially where food is concerned (besides the fact that a lot of the products on the graphic above simply aren’t available here). Since the beginning of 2016, palm oil has to listed for what it is and can no longer hide behind the following names:

1. Elaeis guineensis
2. Etyl palmitate
3. Glyceryl
4. Hydrogenated palm glycerides
5. Octyl palmitate
6. Palm fruit oil
7. Palm kernel
8. Palm kernel oil
9. Palm stearine
10. Palmate
11. Palmitate
12. Palmitic acid
13. Palmitoyl oxostearamide
14. Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3
15. Palmityl alcohol
16. Palmolein
17. Sodium kernelate
18. Sodium laureth sulfate
19. Sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate
20. Sodium lauryl sulfate
21. Sodium palm kernelate
22. Stearate
23. Stearic acid
24. Vegetable fat

25. Vegetable oil

Thanks to transparent labeling, it is possible here at least to shop consciously – and elimination becomes easier. 
So we started a two-fold approach to shopping. Local produce only and palm oil free products. The first place we went to is the local farmer’s market. Fortunately where I live, the farmers come by once a week and set up shop for a day in the square in front of the supermarket so the choice is quite clear. Otherwise, there is a daily farmer’s market in Bern on Bärenplatz and on Saturday the large one on Bundesplatz.

Saturday Market, Bundesplatz, Bern
Market on the Bärenplatz, Bern
In order to shop consciously, we discovered that the majority of the local products we were now buying also carry the label “bio” (in other words, organic) – and purchasing at the farmer’s market wasn’t making a massive dent in our budget.  
Local produce – and not a lot of it…
As a result of changing our shopping habits we also tackled another problem. 
Food waste.

A third of all food in Switzerland disappears into the trash between the store and the plate. To put it other words:
2 million tons of food a year, or 14’000 truckloads or as puts it:
“a line of trucks that would span the distance between Zürich and Madrid” –  1’659 kilometers.
320 grams of food is thrown away everyday per person in Switzerland – a full meal. This is food that is still good. 
The picture of food waste is, to put it bluntly, horrifying.
Food is sorted out by the way it looks, so you only get the prettiest apples for example. Ugly food is wasted so your fruit basket always look presentable.

Then food is wasted through over production and limited sell by/use by dates: can’t sell it, or you think you can’t eat it, throw it. 
Now before we go completely off the rails, food waste does not include things like banana peels or onion skins. It is only in relation to the parts of food you can eat and not what you would normally throw away.

This should however, make you think about things like apple, carrot and potato skins. You can eat them but I bet you throw them in the trash – another significant contribution to daily food waste. 

Why is this your problem?
Well for a start, it costs you money. You don’t like going to a restaurant and not finishing your meal. So why do you go to the store, buy food you think you might eat and then throw it away? It’s still money you are wasting. Broken down per household it’s a 1000 francs a year. There goes your vacation…
In Switzerland alone, the amount of land needed to produce the amount of food that is being wasted, an area the size of Canton Zürich would be needed – now this might sound fantastical but it gives you an idea of how many natural resources are being wasted by throwing food away. In the case of Switzerland, it is 600 liters of water per person per day for the food that is being tossed.
Food waste also contributes to rising costs – a higher demand leads to higher prices in the world markets and contributes in a back handed way, to world hunger. 
It also makes up 15% of what lands in your garbage bag. Since garbage bags aren’t free in Switzerland, do you really need to use them for unnecessary items? 
So, now that you are starting to feel guilty, what can you do to change your ways?
The obvious start is shopping lists. Shop only what you plan to eat, plan your meals. 
Seasonal is hard for a lot of people but try it anyway.

If you look at the following table, it is quite incredible how much produce is available through out the year. What is important to note though, is that a lot of these products are also being imported – so you will still have to read labels. To live seasonally it is important to stop thinking of food as a convenience. I use the list from the Migros to make it easier. Since we are going to whole hog with this, I also don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list – no mangos, oranges, grapefruits or avocados. Of course, I do make exceptions – sometimes, even I get fed up with just looking at avocados…

So of course you must be asking yourself “what on earth do you eat?”
We have learned to balance our diets better, by eliminating almost all packaged foods with some exceptions, and get creative when winter comes along. Schwarzwürzel (Black salsify) and topinambur (Jerusalem artichoke) are very tasty but I bet you have never heard of them before. Both are available from October until March making them perfect winter vegetables. 
Jerusalem Artichoke
Black Salsify

The whole point of this is we spoiled people in the West need to look a little harder at what we eat and above all, how we consume. It is about thinking before shopping – taking a little more time to read labels, considering what you actually need. It is about no longer treating food as merely a convenience but learning to enjoy it.

So why not try your own experiment? Go local, eat seasonal, take a closer look at palm oil – I dare you.

 For more information regarding palm oil, you can go to:

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