by Marion Nestle
Aug 20 2013

Food Politics: Munich style

I am in Munich this week to give a talk at a meeting of environmental historians and will be posting tourist photos.  Here’s today’s from the main tourist area in front of city hall:


My (rather loose) translation:

Eat vegetarian today.  For the sake of health, the animals, and the environment.

I guess the Germans do pig crates too.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für Mitwelt (Tr. Foundation for Mankind), a vegan animal-welfare group.

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  • Margie Gibson

    I can assure you that eating vegetarian in Germany is possible, but I don’t think it is very pleasurable–and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help the small farmers. I live to the south of Munich, where farmers depend predominantly on beef and dairy cattle to make a living. The region’s culture and traditions are closely linked to the animals.

    The local fruit and vegetable selection can be very limited–ask the monks who survived Lent on the Starkbier! Sure, you can get avocados from South Africa and Peru now, but I can assure you, they don’t taste good and they are not local!

    Industrial farms exist in Germany. But there are still lots of small, responsible farmers who care for the welfare of their animals. And this says nothing about the organic farmers who provide top quality meats. Consumers need to be smart and know where their food is coming from. If they are buying meats at the discount grocers, they are most likely supporting industrial farms. On the other hand, if they buy from butchers with good reputations, they are supporting the smaller farmers.

    Look into some of the local heritage breeds of domesticated animals–in particular the Murnau-Werdenfelser cattle. This is one of the oldest cattle breeds, bred to withstand the mountainsides of the Werdenfels and the wetlands around Murnau, just south of Munich. We need to encourage farmers to raise these cattle and keep up the farming traditions that are so important to the region. They don’t deserve to be lumped together with the their industrial counterparts.

  • DevourCatering

    It is my impression that vegan is a much stricter diet than vegetarian

  • schedulingepiphanies

    DevourCatering said:
    “It is my impression that vegan is a much stricter diet than vegetarian”

    It depends. If one is vegan for something like perceived health reasons it can feel strict, like denying oneself of certain food pleasures.

    If one is vegan because ethically, they feel they cannot be otherwise, than they just get on with it and it’s not a matter of being strict, they just are.

  • schedulingepiphanies

    Margie Gibson said,
    “[Vegetarianism] certainly doesn’t do anything to help the small farmers.”

    Small farmers can and do grow vegetables too. That some small farmers are entrenched in animal husbandry isn’t all that relevant and there is no imperative for any consumer to “help” them if they do not desire their particular product. Just because it’s may have always been so, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily what should continue. Europe, imports a ridiculous amount of animal feed, so the locality of animal products is offset by the sheer quantity of ghost acres where the feed was originally grown. And no, it’s not all destined for industrial animals.

    The Vegetarian Society of Germany was established in 1869 so it’s not apparent that vegetarians in Germany were necessarily dependant on imported foods like avocados or even modern agricultural industrialization.

    However, imported fruit and vegetables are perfectly fine, an arguable necessity for a population since daily fruit servings are understood to be health promoting, and not just the fare of vegetarians. Avocados import well, (they taste fine to me) and so long as they are not shipped by air. They grow abundantly in southern climates and they can be very efficiently grown and distributed. Food imported to feed people is far better than food imported to feed animals that then fed to people. Also, there are farmers, large and small, that grow imported food in their respective countries. International trade is a good thing. It generates wealth and diminishes conflict since nations become more interdependent.

    Local artisanal food is fine, it but should not be a fetish anymore than sourcing all of our clothing locally (including materials) should be. There was no imperative to keep employing local blacksmiths to hammer out horse shoes for our carriages, those days were over. With local food production, there’s a lack of efficiency of scale and it’s the regions with the most international trade, both coming and going, that are economically better off. Really, Germany is not doing as well as it’s doing due to agriculture, as it only makes up only around 2-3 percent of GDP.

    There is food culture, but it’s not the only aspect of culture. There is language, dress, music, art, drama, literature, folklore, customs, and ideas. The food landscape of Europe was dramatically changed since the discovery of the New World. We now associate tomato sauce with Italy and potatoes with the Irish, and these foods were not native to the region. Belgium is famous for it’s chocolates and cacao certainly doesn’t grow in Germany. Germans consume more coffee per capita than the Untied States, and make some of the best coffee accessories. Coffee and chocolate are a part of German food culture and it’s not dependent on the locality of where they are grown.

    Times change. Culture evolves. It’s more important to recognize what culture holds value for upcoming generations rather than just retain tradition for tradition’s sake.