April recipes

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March recipes

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Recipe in the Guardian

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Food and shopping philosophy

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


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.


The meat from here is often (though not always) organic; they have Bio; and Landjuwel stamps of approval.


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.


Organic food


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.


Food miles


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.


If we buy fish in small quantities, we do so from Der Fischladen. In large quantities, we go to either Lindenberg or Metro, both of whom have an excellent, spanking-fresh fish selection.


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.


Posted by Caroline on 1 August 2010 | 2 Comments

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  • Hi Dshan

    I would love to send you an email, but I don't have your email address. (This is my fault, the website is relatively new and there was a bug in collecting email addresses from comments - it's now fixed.)

    In brief:

    I haven't really got the time to do more than rely on labels (organic, fair-trade, etc). The trouble is that if many people want this stuff and start buying such labels, they become popular - which is good, until big business realises that "hey, we can make a profit outa this stuff!".

    That's when I get cynical.

    More than happy to send an email explaining at length if you can post a new message with your address. Sorry for the inconvenience.


    Posted by Caroline, 11/08/2010 12:46pm (11 years ago)

  • Caroline, great post...you came onto our radar all the way in Vancouver, and seem to be extremely thoughtful on the subject of food provenance. Our team spends a lot of time thinking about the subject and how we might help make it easier to communicate and manage provenance knowledge, and Europe is an especially interesting environment because a number of your trace/provenance regulations are ahead of North America's. We're hoping to build something that makes your job easier, but also allows for the gaps in information to be quickly discovered (I nod to your mention of reliance on Fair Trade labeling, for instance). Anyway, we'd love your thoughts and feedback on how we might accomplish some of the things we're hoping will make food provenance the norm in our shopping and dining experience...please feel free to shoot me an email if you see fit. Cheers!

    Posted by DShan, 11/08/2010 3:02am (11 years ago)

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