Long, long ago, in 1992, when I first came to Germany, I, at the tender age of 21, had no real idea of what “organic” even was. Who did back then, except a few hippies and tree huggers (ha, ha). I had a few older and wiser friends with small children who bought bio products from under the bridge at a vegetable market in Freiburg, but at the time, I hardly even cooked, so I certainly didn’t understand the need to buy groceries at twice the price, when the fruit and veg looked battered and worn, even from the beginning. I was used to shiny (waxed) American apples and giant onions, ramen noodles and frozen ravioli. After a couple of years in Freiburg, when I went back home, I felt like an immigrant from some far away country where there was nothing available but a sad looking parsnip at the grocery store in the dead of winter. All that selection, all that food, all those giant boxes!
The next step in my transition towards bio came in 2003, when I moved back to Germany after five years in Michigan. I had a colleague at my new workplace who raved about the joys of organic. She only bought organic eggs, and insisted they tasted better. I thought she was crazy! What difference could it possibly make, I thought? Why do you have to have organic peanut butter — that oily concoction that you have to stir before eating? Again, I was not ready to shell out extra for an organic egg or anything else organic.
Now we know where this is going. Now that it is cool to buy green, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, right? When I was back in the US, I of course noticed how nice things were at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but I couldn’t afford to do my shopping there. That was for rich, yuppies! But here things are different. Every week Aldi seems to have more and more bio products. And when I had my two littler children, I started to think more about what I was putting into their bodies. I felt like I had made a mistake catering to the pickiness of the older two, who spent the first three and five years of their lives in the US, respectively, home of Lunchables and Slurpees, blue milk and purple ice cream. Now they still avoid most vegetables and most real food. I didn’t want to go down that road with the younger two.
So, pregnant with Olivia, I started reading more about what was going into my food. I drank organic milk and bought organic eggs. Meat was too expensive, so I continued to buy conventional meat. But I fed them everything we ate from early on. My husband started to learn to cook a la Jamie Oliver, who usually calls for organic ingredients. I noticed that there really is a difference in taste between regular eggs and bio eggs. And once Aldi started carrying more and more bio products, I started to try out more and more of them. Aldi prices I can deal with. Now they have everything from butter to ground beef, lunchmeat to cheese, soy milk to apples, all in organic. And I figured, why not? I noticed how my eldest started puberty at the age of nine. Could those poor cows and the antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. be playing a part in that?
Now we have become genuine bio snobs. We get our vegetables every Tuesday in a crate from a local company called DIrks Biokiste (www.dirksbiokiste.de). They bring us what is in season and regional, and we are surprised and excited to discover what we’ve gotten this week. You can of course tell them that you never want to see a parsnip or that you are allergic to grapefruit, but it is quite cool and virtuous to eat what is currently in season and not to be looking for asparagus in November. We have opened our minds to new food possibilities.
So what happens if I ever move back to the US? Will I become one of those people who only shops at Whole Foods? It could happen. After watching a full season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I know I won’t be letting my kids eat school lunches anytime soon. Will he succeed in changing a few cities over to feeding their kids real food again? All I can say is that it is much easier and cheaper to eat healthily in Germany, especially when the food is brought to your doorstep every week. After a recent trip to the local commissary with a friend who works for the military, I realized that I am not really missing much when I can’t get my American favorites. Sure, the black beans are great, as is the salsa and the veggie burgers. But once you start looking at the lists of ingredients on the back of a package of cookies, for example, you see how little these processed foods are related to real food. They are easy and they taste good, but for my part, I think I’ll stick to Aldi and Dirk. It was a long road to get here, but the journey was worth it for me.