A full version with recipes can be found at the Slow Travel Berlin website. more...
Full version with recipes can be found at Slow Travel Berlin. more...
I've been a big fan of Felicity Cloake's Perfect column for the Guardian ever since it started. more...
Like most people who are interested in food, we are also interested in its provenance. I want to make ethical food choices that benefit farmers, farm workers and my local community. I want it to be true that no animal suffered unnecessarily for my dinner and that the effect on the environment was kept to a minimum.
A proper restaurant usually has the power to form lasting relationships with their suppliers, to dictate policy and to buy direct from farms rather than intermediaries. It has the time to research ethics thoroughly.
Thyme Supper Club, as an occasional restaurant, does not have the buying power to make demands; nor the time to thoroughly research the provenance of every item purchased. Like any other individual consumer, we buy the majority of our food from local shops and supermarkets, not direct from farms, nor from wholesalers.
And like most people, we are also too busy to exhaustively research every piece of food we buy and too greedy not to occasionally give in to food cravings for out-of-season produce that has been shipped or flown halfway round the world.
Nevertheless, when guests are paying money for the food they eat here, they have every right to ask questions about our buying philosophy. So here are the basic set of questions we ask ourselves and guidelines we try to follow:
Animal welfare is probably the thing that we consider most when selecting food.
It is important to us that an animal reared for meat, or an animal producing food for consumption (eggs, milk, etc.) is kept in good conditions: fed healthily, allowed to roam and not mistreated. In most cases, these conditions can be summed up by the phrase "free-range".
In Germany, my understanding is that the term free-range (Freiland) only really applies to chickens and eggs, which can make it difficult to know what we are buying, when it comes to other meats.
For this reason, when buying animal products from an unfamiliar source, we would always choose organic if possible, as the organic label guarantees a free-range standard of animal welfare.
In most cases, we buy our meat from Fleischerei Gottschlich, an excellent local butcher.
We have questioned the manager about their policies and been offered the opportunity to personally visit the farms where their meat is raised. (We haven't taken them up on that offer yet, but it seems clear to me that a butcher would need to be very sure indeed that their customers would find the experience pleasing, in order to offer it.)
We are conscious of overfishing and tend to cook more with shellfish than with fish as a result.
We are unconvinced that organic food is better for our health and do not buy it on those grounds alone. I have yet to read a convincing study persuading me to the contrary.
It is highly likely that an organic label on meat is associated with a high level of animal welfare. See above for more details.
It is certainly true that use of pesticides can affect the environment adversely. However, it does not seem feasible to feed the whole world on organic food alone. We believe that a blanket ban on pesticides would affect farmers in developing countries disproportionately. I believe that the best way forward is to promote responsible and sustainable use of pesticides and the EU - where I live and buy my food - is already on the case with that one. (More information on this can be found here.)
So, in a nutshell, except in the case of unfamilar meat, we do not seek out organic food. But if the organic food option looks better at the shops (fresher, greener, etc.) - as often it does - we will choose it.
And if we believe that the organic option will taste better - as is often the case with meat - we will choose it.
We'd prefer to buy local produce wherever possible. We always check the labels, and if there is a choice, will buy the product that was grown/manufactured closest to us.
For fresh produce, we believe this is usually beneficial in terms of taste as well, as it is then more likely that the fruit or vegetable will be seasonal and have ripened on the plant.
But there are some things that are not produced in Germany, or even in Europe. In this case, we have no choice but to buy long-distance, but we try not to do so too often and focus more on local, seasonal ingredients for inspiration.
When buying products that are from developing countries (or made with ingredients from developing countries) we try to go for fairly traded items when possible.
The "fair-trade" label has been criticised by some as being a cynical marketing ploy that does not, in fact, guarantee food has been traded in the "fair" kind of way that most consumers actually want, and think they are getting.
I am not sure how fair this claim is. In the absence of any other knowledge, we rely on the fair-trade label. If anyone has a suggestion for another method of assessing products - or an argument that the "fair-trade" label can in fact be trusted - please do leave a comment.
Small, local businesses
Yes, we like to buy from small, local shops. But we can't buy everything from them, as they are often a bit pricier. We are lucky enough to have an excellent, fair-priced local butcher and a range of independent fruit and veg shops with competitive pricing.
We do still buy some products from the supermarket; when so, usually from Kaisers.
As I said earlier, we do not have the buying power or the time to research everything exhaustively. It may be the case that the odd ingredient is not purchased in line with these policies. But we do try.
We always welcome questions from guests about food provenance. Feel free to ask us where the strawberries came from. We will always be honest.