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I know what I eat

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Mr Cuketka, who runs the popular blog, had his doubts about the way foods are grown and sold today. He wanted to know whether you could live solely on foods not processed by mass manufacturers. This is his report on that experiment, conducted earlier this year. His conclusion: Life’s possible without the supermarket.

It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m standing with a full basket at the supermarket checkout. The line of anxious people is especially long today. I’m looking at the goods in my basket and can’t shed the sense that something’s wrong. After a while, the penny drops. This food has something in common with the synthesised pop that’s blaring all around us. Looking down at this sliced meat packed into super-fine plastic, I can’t imagine the animal it came from or the place that creature lived. These fruits and vegetables have travelled farther than I ever have. And how can there be tomatoes growing in the Netherlands when it’s snowing right now outside?

Every single item in my basket seems to present a sort of pop quiz. You need to decode what’s actually inside – which parts are food and which are the chemical substances that keep our products “fresh” on the shelves for weeks. Very often, only the slightest flavour remains of what was meant to be a key ingredient. This is what I’m thinking about as I stare into my basket. Am I being paranoid or rightly defensive? I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure: I can try things out a completely different way. After all, people all over Europe buy food at local markets or directly from farmers. I realise this while I’m standing in that queue, and so I decide: I’ll push the reset button and start over. The advantage of this experiment is that if it fails, the supermarket will always be waiting for me. Just to be sure, I tell the lady at the checkout that I’ll see her later. It’s been four months, and I haven’t been back to Billa since.

Villager in the city 

I’m avoiding other supermarkets too, and I only buy foods if I know where and how they were produced and that they didn’t go through the mass-distribution system. And it’s working pretty well. There are other, more human and more pleasant ways to get food than by standing in line with a shopping trolley. I’ve found this out and am happy about it. I’ve called my project “Country Man”. But in reality I’m no rural-dweller at all. I’m a typical modern guy from the city who’s always short on time and lacks an iron will. So I need to come up with at least a basic survival strategy. It must be simple and sustainable. Being a country man can’t be a full-time job. 

If I don’t want to use industrially processed food for cooking, I need to find readily available and, where feasible, permanent sources of three items: meat, fruit and veg, and dairy products. I prefer small family producers based as close as possible to Prague so I can do my shopping and take a trip at the same time. When choosing goods, I pay attention to whether they can be grown in the Czech Republic and whether they have a history here. I only opt for organic products for variety’s sake. I’m not overly concerned with certificates that make goods more expensive. Finding meat turns out to be easiest. Our average consumption is beyond the capacity of our evolved bodies anyway. Each Czech eats almost 90 kilograms of meat a year, and that’s mostly pork. The main content is saturated fat, huge amounts of salt in industrially processed meat, and, in smoked products, carcinogens. I won’t be missing any of that. My sources will be small farms that offer direct-to-customer sales. Because of the effort required and the irregular supply, my consumption is automatically regulated. But it’s not hard at all, and in less than two weeks, my freezer is full of top-quality meat. I decide to quiz a few friends, and it turns out that I’m probably the last person in the world who hasn’t tried buying meat from a farm. Really, it’s as simple as finding a contact on the internet (see the list of contacts available, for instance, at Larger organic meat farms even distribute pork and poultry to Prague shops on a regular basis.

Ninety-seven per cent of eggs in Czech shops are from hens kept in battery cages, which fail to meet basic ethical standards, as experts and politicians across Europe have agreed. From 2012, a European Commission regulation banning this practice will take effect. I have decided to speed ahead of the EU and find some eggs right now. I coincidentally come across an almost perfect source while riding my bike near Prague’s Šárecké valley. I must have passed this family house a hundred times, but until last spring I didn’t notice the inconspicuous cardboard sign in front reading “Eggs for 2.50”. The old lady I buy my eggs from is a retiree, and hens bring in some extra income.

I won’t disclose the exact location of my source in my own best interests, but she’s by no means the sole supplier. If you do some research (let’s say at, you can buy eggs directly from farms and forget about expensive organic goods from supermarkets.

Milk from the udder 

Fresh milk is an even bigger challenge. For a few years now, it’s been legal to buy nonpasteurised milk directly from farms in the Czech Republic. Your farmer just needs to have certified milking equipment and to cool the milk for you. Unfortunately, there are no suitable breeders in Prague 6, where I live. But I don’t want to give up, because I have strong reservations about the standard milk sold in shops. Skimming deprives it of some of the delicious fat and particularly of taste, processing under high temperatures gives it a boiled flavour, and thanks to homogenisation I never find cream on the top. I haven’t plucked this information out of thin air, but have gleaned it during a labour-intensive milking course with Mr. Bednář from the Medník organic farm ( Only there did I realise what a gift milk actually is. And that it’s not at all fair to wean a calf from this substance after 10 days and keep it all for myself. 

The only way to get such milk in the city is to buy from small health-food shops supplied by organic dairies. The advantage is that the taste is perfect. The disadvantages are that supplies are irregular and the delivery process can be inconvenient. As a result, I often come home with no milk (when it’s not available) or milk that’s slightly sour (when the preservation process and transport fail). Even in the second situation, I don’t lose hope. I just dial the phone number on the package and ask the farmer (Ms Citterbarová from Březí) about how to prepare homemade cheese.

But where do you buy fruit and vegetables in February and March? And is it even possible to survive by relying on local sources? This is what I’m most doubtful about. Until I discover veggie boxes. It happens by accident while I’m having a cup of coffee in the Bio Zahrada cafe. A van stops in front of the entrance, and the driver offloads some 20 boxes full of vegetables. At that moment, the guests start to get up and prepare their rucksacks or start carrying boxes out to their cars in front of the cafe.

It’s an established rite. The cafe’s owner, Vanda Švihlová, and her friend Daniel Mourek launched this veggie box co-operative way back in 2003. It was meant then as a replacement for the cancelled open-air market in the Pankrác neighbourhood. Since that time, the Kuchař family, which runs a farm near Prague, has supplied its products to this place. The orders from 50 customers are enough to fill one van. The cafe makes for a perfect delivery site. In winter, the boxes mainly contain stored vegetables such as potatoes, onions, beetroot, pumpkin and apples. Ten kilograms costs CZK 200. As the season gets under way, more fruit and vegetables are available, and different supplies appear.

I’ve known that such coops had worked in Germany and Austria for years. But I quickly find out that there are also plenty of them in the Czech Republic: Farmers run services to both Brno and Prague ( A colleague of mine who has a wine blog ( is fascinated by these boxes and fills them with carefully selected wine products.

Carrying a mountain of dirty vegetables home once a week isn’t too comfortable, but it can’t spoil my joy. I have just unloaded another delivery onto my table. There is fresh lettuce, turnips and carrots. Slowly baking in my electric Remoska pot is a chicken from Mr Štencl from Nymburk, with rosemary taken from the little herb garden in front of our block of flats.

Over a couple of months, I’ve found many incredible sources, the bulk of which I haven’t even tried yet. I’ve personally met the suppliers of what’s on my table. For the first time, I’ve tried to milk a cow and bake my own bread, and I’m going to make strawberry jam. It’s been wonderful. But I’m still not sure if anybody else will be interested in being a country man. It takes a lot of extra time and planning. The same goes for cooking with fresh ingredients. It’s laborious; you need supplies. Thinking about this, I look at the chicken that’s cooking in my pot. Mr Štencl says it’s the best chicken in the whole world. So I’ll probably continue buying them from him. The cashier at the supermarket will forgive me, I hope.

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