Organic growth...

>> Tuesday, 9 April 2013

When we arrived in Moscow over three years ago, doing the weekly shop was a little different to what I had been used to in central London.  Gone were the weekly deliveries of seasonal locally* grown organic vegetables, the free-range eggs in the supermarket along with organic & free range dairy, meat and poultry, and sustainably fished & line-caught fresh seafood.

Instead, I found myself searching for a new bare minimum of what I considered to constitute healthy eating; apples that hadn't been tossed into the display basket by shop workers for whom the concept of unbruised fruit was as yet unknown, wholemeal bread that wasn't so preserved it lasted two years, any wholegrain pasta (there are whole supermarket aisles devoted to pasta here, with perhaps two product facings of  the wholegrain version), poultry that wasn't pumped full of water, minced meat that didn't give half a pan full of grease when cooked, and fish that looked and smelt as if it had been caught within the last couple of days rather than two weeks ago, frozen, refrozen and thawed to be sold as 'fresh'.

Of course, there were and are high-end retailers that could deliver all of the above, but at an exorbitant price - and we operate on a tight budget.  Consequently it took a while before I reached the stage where I felt comfortable on where to find the right goods (usually in a number of different stores to make up a shopping basket that back home would have been available in a one-stop shop) at the right price - and crucially, where they would actually be in stock when I wanted them.

Three years on, and things are slowly starting to change.  Wholemeal pasta is still something of a rarity, but decent bread is a lot more readily available, and the basic levels of produce in many stores has improved markedly.  Hell, you can even buy Cathedral City cheddar now in Auchan (I blogged about the red letter day when I found it instore, here - sad sap that I am...).  But what you have not been able to reliably buy is locally farmed organic & free range produce.

Oh sure, you can buy a limited amount of what is supposedly organic & free-range, but I'm afraid to say that I have become extremely cynical on these matters since living here.  Russian farmers are as quick as the next nationality to see the opportunities for increased margins on food labelled as organic, but unlike farms in western Europe they are not subject to the intense study of their land and methods that The Soil Association and similar subject organic farmers to, because there quite simply isn't a similar organisation here.

However, the wind is finally changing.  Today, I found organic milk in a mainstream supermarket I trust (the taste test as to whether it's up to the boys' standards happens tomorrow), and yesterday I went to visit LavkaLavka where Jennifer Eremeeva of The Moscovore blog was running a cooking session on the supergrain Quinoa.  I learned how to make quinoa delicious (no mean feat) and  liked everything I learned about LavkaLavka; the environment, the cafe, the staff, the produce available for purchase at prices that were less steep than I'd feared, and the attitude to sourcing sustainably produced locally farmed product.

Now.  If only I could persuade them to start stocking wholegrain pasta...

* When I say 'locally grown* I mean not airfreighted and from within a few hundred miles, obviously.  Come on - we lived in the UK and woman cannot live on carrots, potatoes & swedes alone ALL winter...


MsCaroline 9 April 2013 at 23:20  

That's the thing we all complain about here, too: trying to find everything you want in one place. Koreans, though, have really jumped onto the healthy/organic bandwagon in the last few years, and there's a line of organic products(although not all that we would like) available in most stores. The first time I bought 'well-being potatoes' I got a good laugh out of it, but now the 'well-being' label is pretty common. Glad things are getting easier for you.

Metropolitan Mum 10 April 2013 at 09:45  

I have to say, the UK and especially London is pretty unique in the vast amount of choice you've got even in your random, average supermarket. Neither Germany nor Switzerland can compete with this. And food prices are still low compared to these countries, too. 10 April 2013 at 15:02  

I think adjusting to shopping practices in a different country is one of the hardest bits. It was funny though, when I moved back to the U.S. from a year in Paris (Paris! so, hardly the boondocks), I would be paralyzed by the aisles and aisles of products and all the choice.

Clare Taylor 10 April 2013 at 19:03  

MsC, it's like the difference between the UK and mainland Europe; 'bio' products there are the organic ones, whereas in the UK it tends to be seen as the other way around. Confusing when you're trying to buy organic baby food on holiday...

MM, I know it - although in the 3 years we've been away I have noticed grocery shopping has got more expensive back home.

Jen, reminds me of a flatmate who spent a few weeks in post-soviet Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 90's and who had a similar experience when she came back to the UK.

Ned 13 April 2013 at 18:46  

It must have been hard to adjust to the new place and develop new eating habits.. But good to know that things are finally changing now and who knows you just might be able to find wholegrain pasta too in MOscow!

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