Monday, September 23, 2013

Food Lessons in a Foreign Country

Market in Rovinj, Croatia
My apologies for being M.I.A. for the past few weeks! I have not, in fact, fallen off the face of the earth. Rather, I have been exploring the earth. Croatia and Slovenia to be exact. My massive passion about food may only be matched or, arguably, eclipsed by my passion for travel, and thankfully these two passions often meld together when I take trips to different corners of the country or the world.

The last time we did a big trip like this, my knowledge of food, organics and agriculture practices were still very much in their infancy. Now that it's such a huge part of my life, however, it was amazing to observe the food practices of other countries.

Not surprisingly, it was another reminder of just how much we've got it all wrong in the U.S.

As we toured our way through towns big and small, the one daily constant was the market. Always located in the heart of the town, where things like town squares still exist, fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, oils, meats, fish and bread were displayed for all the locals and restaurants to buy up their meal items for the day. Interestingly, they aren't called "farmers markets." They're just "the market." Everyone buys their food there.

Yes, grocery stores exist. But instead of one on every corner, there's maybe one per town. And it's generally not the spot where you shop for everything. It's where you fill in the blanks on the things you can't get at the market. And, even at the grocery store, most of the produce is local or regional. If you want tropical fruits (bananas, pineapples, mangoes) in a non-tropical climate, you're going to pay dearly for it. 

Bottle-your-own raw milk in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Arguably the coolest food thing I saw on the entire trip was in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at their market. When small dairy farmers there sell their milk to large bottling companies, they only get a small percentage of the profit (pretty typical for all farmers). So, they lobbied to be able to sell their milk directly to the consumer to make a larger profit. The country agreed and told them that if they could purchase a milk bottling machine to place in the markets, they could sell their milk directly to the consumer. And that's exactly what they did.

So, right in the market, you can bottle your own milk, directly from the farmer, for just 1 Euro per liter. And, because it is directly from the farmer, this is raw, unpasteurized milk basically straight from the cow. 

Not only is this not available in the U.S., it is actually illegal in most states! Dairy farmers cannot sell their products directly to consumers, and they certainly can't sell raw, unpasteurized milk. As a result, there is actually a raw milk black market of sorts because, shocker, people want to buy it. Our government says it's unsafe. Apparently, Slovenia doesn't care about the safety of their people.

Of course, I had to try the milk - I've never had raw milk in my life! And, let me tell you, it was the best milk I've probably ever tasted. 

Needless to say, the trip was an eye-opener. Not because any of Croatia's and Slovenia's food lifestyles were particularly surprising, but because it was a stark reminder of just how progressive other parts of the world are when it comes to food, and just how far behind we are in the U.S. 

It was also a reminder to keep pursuing the things that are good in the U.S. To keep supporting my local farmers market in the hopes that it will get bigger and better as more people use it, to focus more on eating locally and seasonally like the rest of the world does, and to keep advocating for change in our country.

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