Today was unseasonably cold and persistently rainy, the perfect day to make chicken soup and, despite some recent bouts of homesickness, praise German food. I’ve written before about what’s wrong with American food prices, and I’m not the only one who’s worried. As noted in one of my favorite cookbooks, Simply In Season, “[a] dollar spent on chips (or white bread, instant noodles, or candy) doesn’t buy much nutrition, but it does buy nearly five times as many calories. In this limited sense, ‘diets composed of whole grains, fish and fresh vegetables and fruit are far more expensive than refined grains, added sugars, and added fats,’ says researcher Adam Drewnowski.” Why do bananas imported from hundreds of miles away cost less than locally grown apples? I’m not criticizing small farmers, just the larger infrastructure. As my friend and colleague Toril often says, “It’s a broken system.”
In Germany, we’ve generally found fresh, healthy foods to be far more reasonably priced. We spend about the same amount on groceries here as we did back home, but generally we eat better, simply because on the whole, there seem to be fewer low-quality foods available, or perhaps the high-quality ones are just more accessible. For example, all the eggs I’ve seen in the supermarket are local and free range, with deep orange yolks. The freshly baked whole-grain bread in the bakeries doesn’t cost more than the spongy, pre-packaged variety back home. A huge wedge of Brie costs 1 Euro (about $1.25).
Because of the focus on fresh food, people shop more frequently here and refrigerators are quite small. We tend to buy a little bit every day or so, cultivating a habit I remember from ten years ago, when as an exchange student in Freiburg I earned my dorm-mates’ good-natured teasing for struggling to lug a week’s worth of groceries back in my bicycle basket. They couldn’t understand why I would buy food that needed to sit around so long, and possibly go to waste. I learned quickly that my loaf of bakery bread, which lacked preservatives, would turn hard and even moldy after too much shelf time; it was silly to buy a week’s worth. Of course, since small grocery stores are so easily accessible here (see my “Urban Planning” post), shopping every day is pretty simple.
Tonight’s soup actually began yesterday with a small chicken we bought at the farmers’ market in our neighborhood and roasted for our Sunday dinner. Though we ate all the meat off the bones, we decided as usual to use the carcass to make broth. Tonight we needed a few more ingredients (including meat) in order to complete the soup. Matthew headed off and bought several pounds of potatoes and onions to have on hand, peas, a couple ears of corn, and about a pound and a half of fresh chicken, plus heavy cream and two hunks of fresh mozzarella for tomorrow’s recipe. This bounty cost just 7 Euro ($8.90) and of course we have many leftovers. The broth seemed unusually rich; I barely added any salt or pepper. I did throw in some fresh parsley and chives, which were growing for free in my little windowbox garden; then made biscuits, which turned out better than any I can remember making before (the only thing I really did differently was not measure butter, because German butter comes in these interesting square hunks instead of 8-tablespoon sticks, so I just eyeballed it. I highly recommend this approach). Yum!