Berlin

The place to be for local and seasonal food
Producer Guide Jun 02, 2020 Chelsea van Hooven
Berlin

Think “Berlin”. You might have images of industrial chic, techno music, and art. But there’s green beneath the gritty exterior. As any food lover here will tell you, Berlin has a passion for fresh, local, seasonal produce, and it shows on menus or in grocery stores across the city.

We’re into it for so many reasons. Eating local and in-season helps build a deeper connection to our food. It can be healthier and more sustainable while supporting struggling farmers. To be clear, we’re not saying that all imported produce is bad. We love that Berlin supermarkets stock staples like bananas and oranges year-round. And we have no beef (pun intended) with frozen food. Studies show that frozen fruits and vegetables retain— and often increase— nutrients compared to fresh counterparts. If there is a difference, it is very little. What we are saying is that when it comes to fresh produce, in-season and local is awesome. But why is Berlin the place to be for local, seasonal food?

Awareness: a spargel story

Springtime in Berlin has the energy of a blooming flower. People come out of hibernation onto the streets to spend day (and night) basking in the growing warmth. But it’s not just the open-airs and lake-swimming that brings excitement. Spring is Spargelzeit. Spargel (asparagus) season begins in mid-April. Excited German friends host Spargel dinners and restaurants will hand you a separate Spargel menu with variations on a tasty white theme. By late June and it disappears again, making way for cherry season. Berliners (and Germans in general) are aware of these seasons. Rhubarb in April. Peaches in May. Beans in June. Buying produce out of season feels wrong and even if you want to, you can’t. Look for green peas in the winter or kale in the summer and you’ll have a problem. If you’re used to availability all year round this can be irritating at first. But it reminds us that every ingredient in a mouthful does not magically appear. It has to come from somewhere. This connection to our food source doesn’t just make it more satisfying on the tongue. It keeps us aware of the producers. Over 90% of farmers in the EU rely on government subsidies to survive, and it’s a similar story in the US. They need our support. And if you know that the person who picked the parsnip on your plate did so only two days ago, less than 100km away, it brings a sense of reality to the vague idea of a “food supply chain”.

Spargel

Sustainability: food chains and farmers

The supply chain for local produce is far shorter. We don’t grow rice, coffee, or bananas here, so they are imported from Pakistan, Ecuador, or Brazil. Halfway around the world is a lot of food miles, burning fossil fuels on transit, and refrigeration all the way. So while you might fancy a strawberry in November, drop the Chinese import. It’s far more sustainable to wait until summer and pick one at a berry farm on the edge of the city. And it’ll be worth the wait. Fewer food miles also means less waste along the supply chain. We’ve gone into detail on our mission to reduce the 1.3billion tons of food waste, and how we can make it happen here.

Health: eat fruit, not wax

You probably know that the moment produce is picked, nutritional value starts to drop. That’s why we freeze or preserve immediately. For fresh produce, the shortest time between picking and plate is best. There is a famous broccoli study that shows how nutritional values (in this case Vitamin C) are halved if the broccoli you buy is off-season, organic, or otherwise. Technology is our friend here, and advances in storage and processing are getting better at minimizing nutrient loss. But if you buy a mango out of season, it will have been picked “unripe”, refrigerated for transport, then chemically ripened with ethylene gas on arrival. It’s also likely to be coated with preservatives, pesticides, and wax to help it keep longer. None of these additives are especially harmful, so if you don’t mind them, that’s fine. If you do mind, then eat local, in-season. It’ll make sure you’re just getting fruit, with no extra gunk.

Berlin: farm-to-table

We feel lucky to be based in a city where it’s normal to know (and care) about where our food comes from. Sure, we can’t get everything all-year-round, but considering the alternative, it’s worth it. Plus, you learn to love the excitement from arriving at a restaurant to see courgettes on the menu. Or a dessert with pears. Or even— of course— spargel. There’s a growing number of farm-to-table restaurants across the city leading the local, seasonal food movement. Some exclusively use ingredients from the region, while others pick from their own garden or grow leafy greens in a vertical farm you can see from your table. If you want to experience a greater connection to food, while helping out your health, farmers, and the environment, try going local. Or come to Berlin. Because Berlin is the place to be for local and seasonal food. And you’ll love it as much as we do.

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