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You are what you eat.

The developments in the food business are absurd. Why do we buy German milk, German butter, German cheese and yoghurt, French carrots and potatoes at foreign discount shops like Lidl, Aldi, Jumbo & Co., and so many other foreign foodstuffs (including drinks) packed in plastic (made from oil), which are transported thousands of kilometres in planes and trucks throughout Europe and the world? The answer appears to be simple: because these foodstuffs are so cheap there. But is that really the case?
On the one hand we want things to be cheap, on the other we want them to be healthy and regional. A worldwide distribution net of Lidl, Aldi, Jumbo & Co. is hardly consistent with healthy, regional consumption. What is certain is that almost every one of our purchases at discount stores contributes to polluting our world with yet more greenhouse gases because of the lengthy journey that almost every product has to make. It is also indisputable that our mountains of rubbish grow in size because of the amount of plastic packaging – many “foodstuffs” only survive the long journeys and their times on the shelves through unhealthy chemical additives – and that producers (farmers and others) are driven to ruin through a policy of dumping. So what is really cheap about Lidl, Aldi, Jumbo & Co.?
When financial crises and hunger come up against the supply and demand of market economics, we must ask ourselves a further question. How many tortured animals from industrial intensive livestock farming are killed in slaughterhouses at present, just so that their meat and sausage – once the sell by date has passed – land on the rubbish heap? What do Lidl, Aldi, Jumbo & Co. do with these unsellable meat products that are slowly going off on the refrigerated shelves? Throw them away? Chuck food and its packaging on to the rubbish heap while people in other parts of the world are going hungry?
The system is absurd and damaging. We pay our hard-earned money to foreign discount chains which buy their products all over the world and exert huge price pressure on the producers. And it is very simple just to turn the tables: people who buy regional produce avoid crazy haulage distances and are more environmentally friendly. People who buy regional goods support producers in their own region. The money remains in the country, in the region, in their village. Moreover, regional products are very often worth their price or are even cheaper, because ridiculous costs for packaging and transport are avoided. The foodstuffs are fresh and if you buy organic produce you benefit even more. ECO123 shows you how to do it.

Regional products.

local marketA radius of about 50 kilometres counts as a sensible and practicable limit for regional produce. Often a product that is actually regional needs a couple of ingredients that cannot be obtained locally. For example, is a sardine pâté not regional just because some of the spices do not come from the local area? In other products like marzipan (made of almonds) it is precisely ingredients like sugar and cinnamon that give it its special character. In line with the organic seal of approval, a proportion of 80% of regional produce would be desirable. Everyone should appreciate that coffee cannot be a regional Portuguese product. Nonetheless, producers try to argue that the goods were packed or assembled in the region, for example. In contrast, a truly regional product (including rice) should be regional from start to finish, regionality applies to the whole process of value creation.


Purchasing regionally

People who would like to protect the environment by reducing the amount of transportation, and to strengthen the local economy, should preferably spend their money at farm shops or in good old markets. In case of doubt, the producers themselves have to account for growing methods and quality. The fruit and vegetable hampers (cabaz) from the AgroBio association (www.agrobio.pt) or initiatives for community or social agriculture are other interesting alternatives that are to be recommended.

Don’t forget organic

A regional approach on its own is not the whole answer: regional products too can contain pesticides or might have been chemically fertilised. Short transportation distances and regional marketing do not automatically imply environmentally friendly and healthy products. For that reason, with regional products too you should increasingly be on the look-out for organic produce. In addition, we should not forget that, in the winter, tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes come from greenhouses, figs are dried, olives are pickled and carob can be used as flour for a chocolate-drink. The seasonal calendar always helps us to buy products that are seasonal as well as regional.


Guidelines to regional foodstuffs

Guideline for local products

1. Fruit and vegetable hamper (cabaz)
Across Portugal, 109 agricultural businesses have come together to form the AgroBio association; every week, they deliver their best organic fruit, vegetables and even bread to you at home. And the prices are fair: e.g. 5 kg for €7.50. With long-term cooperation agreements between farmers and organic shops, the organisation ensures that there are reliable trading structures in the region based on partnership. ECO123 recommends that you try out a “cabaz”. You will be amazed at the difference between plastic packed supermarket vegetables and a basket full of delicious organic treats that look wonderful and smell great.

2. Social and community supported agriculture
In contrast with the eco-hamper, the concept of Community Supported Agriculture does not involve a classic seller-client relationship. In this case, a group of people establish a long-term link with a farm, jointly finance its annual costs, and in return receive a share of the harvest and the certainty that the farmers treat the land, water, animals and plants responsibly and sustainably. Social agriculture integrates disabled people into work on the farm.

3. Farmers’ and weekly markets (see comprehensive list here.)
The market places were once the centres of our towns and of social life. And even today many farmers and weekly markets present a very nice picture: a manageable number of food sellers in the fresh air, but you can still get everything you need to eat. They all sell foodstuffs they grow themselves or from the region, and on many markets there are also those selling organic produce. If you are not sure, just ask – most market people are more than happy to talk about where their products come from.

quinta-seis-marias-fatima-torres4. Farm shops (see comprehensive list here.)
Farm shops are another good way of purchasing directly from the producer. There, you can buy fruit and vegetables, eggs, dairy products and even sausage and meat, your food, directly from the farmer. Of course, there are more farm shops to be found in the countryside than in the cities, but even there a few of them can be found. If you attach importance to organic quality, it is important to ask in the shop about production, if the products do not carry a seal of approval.

5. Grow your own
Produce all your own food yourself – perhaps that sounds a bit unrealistic. But why not start with something quite small: for example with one vegetable – even without a garden, on the balcony. You will soon see how much fun it is to eat home-grown food!
6. Gathering foodstuffs in nature (abandoned plots, mushrooms, blackberries etc.)
Every year in Portugal, thousands of tonnes of oranges, lemons, quinces, and other fruit rot on/under abandoned, forgotten trees in neglected regions, in parks or at the roadside because no one picks them. Go back to nature, go for a walk and discover abandoned fruit trees where fruit, vegetables, herbs and almonds can legally be harvested. Mushrooms in the wet season, blackberries in the summer. Let’s start gathering and picking!

7. Drink filtered tap water (out of glass bottles)
If you use tap water, you not only save yourself from having to carry those heavy five-litre bottles. By avoiding buying plastic bottles from discount stores, you’re doing something really good for the environment and future generations. Because the plastic bottles (PET) are made from “dirty” oil and our beaches, seas and countryside are meanwhile filling up with tiny bits of plastic which takes more than 500 years to break down completely.

8. Small local shops (bakers, butchers etc.)
Bread from supermarkets has rarely lived up to its name and discount shops are ensuring that small traditional bakers are on the verge of extinction. But the local, home-made products are always the best. And by the way, small traditional businesses often bake organic-quality products and do without additives, without being certified. Enquire! In the case of sausage and meat, the best thing is to eat as little as possible, and if you do eat it, then it’s better to spend a bit more money. Small butchers (Iberian pig!) often source their animals from the region, always ask where it comes from. Those who produce the best quality organic meat sell their produce in regional organic shops.

Bio Shop MerceariaBio9. Organic shops (MerceariaBio in Portimão, Betarraba in Tavira, Brio in Lisbon and others)
Let’s admit it: organic shops are an important alternative to supermarkets. Everything you can get there is organic. Many shopkeepers now pay attention to the labelling of regional products. Mostly there is a much more pleasant atmosphere there than between the proliferating shelves of the discount shops.

10. Super- and minimarkets (local Intermarché, Coviran, Alisuper etc.)
At supermarkets too, regional and organic foodstuffs are now on offer on specific shelves. If you’re not careful though, you’ll soon have Spanish oranges or Brazilian mangoes in your trolley. There are always fresh mangoes from Portugal (from Moncarapacho and Pechão near Olhão) in the summer months between July and September, oranges from Portugal (the best ones come from Silves and Tavira) and bananas from Madeira all year round. What more could we want? Portugal is a garden of Eden.

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About the author

Uwe Heitkamp, 53 years old, started working after university in daily newspapers and from 1984 on in public tv broadcasting companies such as WDR (Collogne), NDR (Hamburg), SDR (Stuttgart/Baden-Baden) in the ARD (first programme), wrote several books and directed the cinema movie about the anti nuclear movement in Germany in 1986 (Wackersdorf). After emigration in 1990 he founded 1995 the trilingual weekly printed newspaper “Algarve123” and later the online edition www.algarve123.com. Heitkamp lives for 25 year in Monchique, Portugal. He loves mountain hiking and swimming in streams and lakes, writes and tells stories of success from people and their sustainable relationship between ecology and economy. His actual film “Revolutionary Roads” tells the 60 minute story of a long walk crossing Portugal. 10 rural people paint a picture of their lives in the hills of the serra and the hinterland. The film captures profound impressions of natural beauty and human life. Along which path is the future of Portugal to be found? (subscribe to ECO123 und watch the documentary in the Mediatec)

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