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Green Food in Latvia

By Jekaterina Strelcova. 18.03.2009

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Interest in organic food is awakening in Latvia – as well as plenty of possibilities for rural development with that perspective.  

In the fast-paced rhythm of modern life it’s all too easy to succumb to fast food. A hasty lifestyle, long working hours, the hustle and bustle of the city, and here we are grabbing hamburgers on the go and washing them down with Coke. Yet the more urbanized and fragile human beings become, the more we should be concerned about ecological food concepts. Interest in organic food is awakening in Latvia – as well as plenty of possibilities for rural development with that perspective.

Mārtiņš Ritiņš, chef of the top Riga restaurant Vincents and founder of the Slow Food movement in Riga, shared with us his insights on the benefits of ecological and slow food on both a personal and a national level.


Ecological and slow

“Would you consider taking antibiotics every day?” Martiņš puzzled us at the beginning of our interview. No, of course not. “But you are. With almost every meal there are dangerous pesticides and chemicals that poison your body.” No wonder, then, that most of are prone to viruses, disease and premature aging.
But first thing‘s first: let’s define what ecological food means. Ecological food is produced according to certain standards, Martiņš tells us. For crops, it means they were grown without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers or human waste, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. For animals, it means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. To put it simply, grown in natural and free conditions, animals and vegetables alike are not just happier, but also healthier.
Slow food is slightly different – good, clean and fair food. An organization going by this name was founded in Italy in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat.
The symbol of slow food is a snail, which is embroidered on the cuff of Martiņš’ chef’s uniform, and there‘s also a much larger bronze specimen greeting you at the entrance of his restaurant. As an enthusiastic representative of the Slow Food movement, Martiņš is all in favor of using local production. Asked to what extent the Vincents menu consists of eco-products, Martiņš says, “We use as many fresh ecological ingredients as possible, which we get from our own list of suppliers, and we never use farmed fish.”

Organic farming

Beyond its cities, the land of Latvia consists mostly of peaceful countryside with excellent conditions for growing green. After several decades of being part of Soviet collective farms, traditional households are now gradually emerging and in recent years ecological farms have been mushrooming. There are now more than 2000 of them.
Yet organic food is still less fashionable than in Latvia’s European neighbors. There is very little government support and ecological food producers are mostly small households specializing in one or two products. It is very hard to compete with cheap mass exports.
EU laws also lie heavily on the shoulders of Latvian farmers. As Mārtiņš puts it: “There are just ten commandments in the Bible, describing the rules for life as a whole, but the number of rules and regulations for producing a single chicken egg is enormous!”
Another problem is the lack of demand from the locals – and surprisingly low demand from the HoReCa (hotels, restaurants, cafes) sector. “If restaurant owners and chefs placed certain orders to farmers it would boost ecological farming, as the farmers would feel more assured that they would be able to sell all their products,” Mārtiņš says.
“I derive great pleasure in visiting the small farms that are everywhere in Latvia and strolling through the verdant pastures and fields, because invariably the farmers are hospitable and proud of what they do. The folkloric knowledge that generations have accumulated fills me with respect and awe for where my food comes from, and for what it is I put on my plate and those of my patrons.”

“Growing” interest


Steps have already been taken to increase awareness of healthy local products. The Latvian Association of Organic Agriculture, uniting the country’s eco-farmers, was created to support, educate and promote ecological growing. It issues “Latvijas Ekoprodukts” licenses, and there is also the so-called Green Spoon sign, a quality award for the very best Latvian products, presented by the Marketing Council of the Ministry of Agriculture.
More activities are promised that involve the wider public, both locals and tourists, in promoting eco-food and an eco-lifestyle. “When I was living in Canada,” Mārtiņš says, “an organization called Knives & Forks organized the annual Feasts of Field events and these were extremely popular, with families driving hundreds of miles to shop in a real ecological food fair.”
A couple of years ago, Mārtiņš and several fellow enthusiasts started the similar Green Fairs in Riga. The first annual festivals were held in Dome Square in the Old Town, but now every second and fourth Saturday of the month there are mini-Green Fairs at Berga Bazars, a precinct just outside the Old Town, where you can buy the very best country delicacies.
Now called Green Bazaar, it is an actual place where – just like in the Middle Ages – the buyers can meet the producers. You are more than welcome to join in on a sunny morning, wandering through the aisles of the market with a wicker basket, picking up the freshest products that are grown locally with love.
Remember that the good from eating ecological food does not come in a flash – it has a cumulative effect. But in the long-term your body and mind will be truly thankful for such care.


Which eco-products are available in Latvia?

  • Grain (rye, wheat, oat, barley)
  • Dairy products (milk, curds, cream, butter)
  • Herbs and tea
  • Meat and eggs (mutton, rabbit, beef, chicken, duck, turkey and pork being the Latvian favorites)
  • Fruit, berries, mushrooms, vegetables

 

 

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