At 05:30am, I meet with Luxembourgish cook Laura Franck. Based in Luxembourg city, Franck’s recently established concept "Wander Kächin" arises from the nature of her work: a travelling cook.
This is exemplified by the trip ahead. Our plan is to drive up to the Niessen slaughterhouse along the northern borders of Luxembourg, making a number of stops on the way back down: a fish farm, two local farmers and a small independent vegetable garden.
Working with local, organic suppliers eclipses a clean eating trend and breaks into advancing regional production.
While Luxembourg has one of the highest rates of organic consumption per capita, organic production is still scarce. 80% of organic produce is in fact imported.
This is the market disparity that Franck targets: a culinary niche that specialises in local and seasonal food, produced within the borders of national territory.
"Healthy food is a luxury. Knowing where’s it’s from, who sows, reaps, and crops, that’s a luxury. Caviar, foie gras, lobster… these things are constantly and readily available. This availability has lost them their original value," observes Franck.
Having completed her education in France, the difference between Luxembourg and France is clear to Franck.
"We may not enjoy the same extent of variety in terms of climate and region, but we have a rich territory. We cultivate a diverse range of goods, like wine, honey and dairy products. But since developing such a strong financial sector, we’ve lost touch with this rural culture."
Indeed, the number of people working in the agricultural sector has fallen from 43.7% in 1947, to 3.6% in 2001, hitting an all-time low of 1% in 2012. While the market has stabilised, this is a shocking production plunge. For many farmers, the work is not financially sustainable: the amount of labour that is invested is not reflected in the returns.
However, being such a small country bears it’s own advantages. "Working on a smaller scale means you don’t have the pressure of mass production. It’s easier to maintain humane standards," says Jean-Marie Niessen, of Metzgerei/Traiteur Niessen.
Throughout the day, we speak with suppliers of meat, fish, vegetables, honey, and butter. Alongside Franck I watch the slaughtering procedure, coming face to face with what I eat in an unprecedented way. This level of engagement is unparalleled, and it’s a reality check.
Packaged goods are accessible, painless and uncomplicated. However, they omit the real source of the food, as well as effort and labour that goes into its production.
"If a cook does anything, it’s to create a link between the food and the consumer. If we as a society are beginning to question the origins of our food, then a cook should be right at the front line of this revolution," affirms Franck.
At the fish farm "Fëschtzuucht Ourdal", Franck and I are given a tour of the surroundings, the ponds, the feed and the workings of the farm. Franck and the owner discuss the transforming fish market, the pressure of growing demand for salmon in an already saturated market, and the impact of these trends.
Indeed, when cheap organic food becomes the norm, this often means that exploitation is happening at another point down the line. The current palm oil crisis underscores this reality: cheap always comes at a price.
Traceability and transparency easily dissolve when the demand is high and relentless. This means that sincere professional relationships, small-scale events and a steady, careful work ethic are priority for Franck.
This moves past the organic certificate and towards a relationship with suppliers, built on communication and exchange. "A working relationship is built on a foundation of a collective philosophy," she maintains. In this context, permaculture, durable production and sustainable consumption need to be a common goal.
We drop by two more farms, Kaes Haff Houschter-Déckt, for honey and ribs, and Schank Haff for butter. Our last stop, 12 hours later, is at Krautgaart’s weekly vegetable collection point in Koerich.
The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed, as I speak to Jean-Marc, Max and Claude about their joint initiative. Their aim, similarly, is to rebuild an affinity to the country’s natural environment.
When we finally arrive back in the city, the conversation, naturally, stays with food. "Clients have to be aware that not all ingredients can be available at all times. We can plan as much as possible, but sometimes nature gets in the way. You need to work around that, with what you have. That’s the challenge."
"Trying out new tastes and sensations is integral to relying primarily on regional produce. You diverge from what you know and what’s easy. It won’t always be to everyone’s taste, and that’s okay. You can’t always please everyone, but you can help him or her discover something new. I’m not trying to teach people how to cook, or to tell them what to eat. I’m here to suggest new ways of approaching food and provide alternative recipes."
Whether it’s possible to apply this philosophy to the public is questionable. The idea of keeping it small, local, and slow, goes against the grain of what can provide for mass consumption.
Furthermore, the cost and time it takes to purchase and prepare organic produce oftentimes cause people to shy away from the lifestyle. Is it feasible to apply these standards on a larger scale?
According to Franck, the food that we consume takes priority.
"These are our basic needs. It’s what you feed your body and mind, every single day. Why wouldn’t you take it seriously? The rise in food intolerances and digestive problems underpins the big picture: the current system isn’t working."
"There are two things worth remembering," Franck concludes, "All good things take time. You have a choice. So take your time and make your choice. We have the capacity to set new standards and develop new behaviours. If every single person paid a fraction more attention to their food, it would make a difference."
(Isabella Eastwood, firstname.lastname@example.org, +352 49 93 9721)