I have mentioned previously the pitfalls of shopping in a country where you don’t speak much of the language. It becomes slightly trickier when, not only would you like to purchase specific items, you would also like to do so sustainably. In the last few years in the UK it has become almost impossible to shop without being aware of the origins of your food, and rightly so. Before I moved to Prague I was really conscious of what I ate.
I didn’t buy fruit from M&S, because it is invariably covered in loads of unnecessary plastic, flown in from far away, and no one “needs” pineapple in February. I don’t eat each much meat but always bought free-range English produce when I could afford it. I paid a little bit more for “happy-chicken” eggs. I worked in an office that tried to ease the corporate conscience of its employees by offering Fair-Trade coffee, chocolate and bananas in the canteen, and serving sustainable fish.
Coupled with monthly charity contributions, I slept untroubled, knowing that I was doing my part to save the planet, its people, and the unhappy chickens (aside from business and holiday air travel. What’s the point of saving the planet if you don’t go to see it once in a while – right?!)
All of this definitely harder here. I think there are two main reasons for this – language and availability. I have a beady eye for spotting the Fair Trade logo in shops here, and know that “bio” written on things means that it is organic. As far as the happy chickens go, I just buy the least-cheap eggs (“most expensive” sounds a bit wrong here, eggs are never going to break the bank unless they’re made by Fabergé) that I can find, and cross my fingers that they don’t come from Germany…
Aside from that, most of the time I have no idea where my shopping basics come from, or how my food was reared or farmed. For all I know I am eating fruit that was grown by exploited farmers miles away, flown somewhere else for packaging and sprayed with dodgy chemicals that were tested on animals. Yum.
Availability of ethical products can be a bit hit and miss here, although this seems to be changing rapidly. Shops selling Fair Trade products are increasingly common, I am told, and places like Country Life sell quite a few eco-type items for people who like to pay over the odds for that sort of thing. Despite the bigger brands (Tesco and M&S are both here), people here do shop locally and there are actually a lot of farmers’ markets around Prague, selling local Czech and German produce. This is sort of the same as going to farmers’ markets in the UK, only without the “Buy British” branding and the overpriced cheeses being sold to people who live near Sloane Square yet for some inexplicable reason still drive 4x4s.
Talking of eating sustainably (or not…) we went out for Sushi on Sunday evening, as the end to my birthday celebratory weekend. Sushi in Prague is a bit of a big deal – it is a little less attainable (or affordable) than in dear old London Town, and understandably so, given that Czech is landlocked and a long way from the sea. It is not good for one’s wallet, or food-miles, to indulge too frequently in fresh seafood here. However, the natural barriers do not seem to deter people in Prague from eating things that nature did not exactly intend. In the same way that skiing on real snow becomes increasingly popular in Dubai, which I am not sure is a particularly sustainable pastime, there are an increasing number of places here to enjoy the raw fish of your choice.
As a birthday-break from pork and dumplings, we headed to the Sushi Bar, just north of the river Vltava. It has some really great reviews, and in my opinion, deservedly so. It is next to a seafood shop (which technically speaking, means almost no food-miles. Yes?), which is also very well reviewed. I am no restaurant critic but it was lovely. The food is a little bit on the steep side (I think this will remain for special occasions/someone else paying) but the fish was brilliant, portions were generous, the service was great and the loos were out of this world! Seriously – they were Japanese brand toilets with about twenty buttons enabling the user to wash their “area” from any number of angles, with a water temperature and pressure of their choice, and the option to be blow-dried afterwards, whilst enjoying the massaging option built into the seat. Hilarious. Even if you are dubious of the food-ethics of eating sushi in the Czech Republic, come here just to use the bathroom.
Being ethical in your shopping habits is a bit of a minefield wherever you are. My mum frequently wonders whether buying air-shipped Fair-Trade goods from far away is better than buying non-Fair-Trade local produce with fewer air miles. Is it still good to shop at local farmers markets if you travel there in a massive car that you don’t really need? Is it good to volunteer for charity projects overseas, if you travel there by airplane?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I will ponder this whilst I eat my non-eco sushi and happy-chicken eggs.