Once upon a time, the Sunday roast was a kind of sacred meal in my family. A miniature economic miracle, the quintessence of fine cuisine. My mother would place her culinary creation at the centre of the table like a trophy: sometimes it was golden-brown breaded schnitzels, sometimes a hearty rolled roast filled with onions and bacon, or my favourite: dark brown crispy chicken with oil-drenched chips. Salad played only a marginal role. In those days, the fat from the roast was generously poured over the potatoes. Even flabby fat edges weren’t taboo. Those were the days of culinary innocence. We ate what we enjoyed: above all meat.
Things have changed over the past few years. In Germany, meat is no longer a status symbol. Alongside sugary soft drinks, it is seen as a prime example of unhealthy food. According to the new consensus, only bad parents make their kids eat schnitzel. Bratwurst stands, once an essential ingredient of German eating folklore, are becoming rarer. And now you often hear the casually emphasized remark: “Actually, I hardly eat meat anymore.” It’s really strange.
Whilst people abroad unshakably see us as sausage and schnitzel experts, two-thirds of women and almost 40% of men in Germany see themselves as “part-time vegetarians”. At least, that’s what the Forsa survey says. Today’s status symbol is no longer the Sunday roast, but the ascetic decision to do without it. In the hope of the longest, healthiest life, we are increasingly shopping at the organic supermarket. And if meat does deck the table, then it should be from contented cows and fortunate free-range chickens, if you don’t mind.
That sounds sensible. After all, there have been enough scandals surrounding meat in Germany, where it’s still sold very cheaply. “Rotten meat” in doner kebabs, BSE in steak and especially the large animal fattening farms provide a regular source of negative headlines. But it’s not just a question of one’s own health; many people feel that the killing of animals is fundamentally immoral. In addition to Eating Animals, the indicting book by American writer Jonathan Safran Foers, Anständig Essen: ein Selbstversuch (Eat Decently: A Self-Test) by German author Karen Duve also contributed to this change in thinking. And once you’re equipped with this information, it’s almost impossible to repress images of the innocent eyes of little calves when you stand at the supermarket meat counter. Mind you, some people do tend to go a bit over the top – for example, vegans. In the hope of maintaining a clear conscience and creating a world without torment, this slowly but constantly increasing population group doesn’t eat any animal products whatsoever: no roasts, no cheese, no eggs, no honey, and of course they certainly do without leather shoes and badger hair shaving brushes. Admittedly, it doesn’t make life any easier. In a restaurant a while ago, a vegan girlfriend had to refuse a very tasty looking salad, despite her rumbling tummy. That was because the conscientious waiter had informed her: “I’m afraid there’s a drop of milk in the dressing…” And milk, according to vegans, is a product of exploitation, of animal slavery.
Of course, especially now in summer, we have innumerable delights from the orchard and the vegetable patch. Even without meat, tables from the Alps to the North Sea are richly decked. And meanwhile I’m also one of those people who casually say: “Actually, I hardly eat meat anymore.” Yet sometimes, when the aroma of cooked garlic mingles with the delicious smell of grilled organically produced meat, I’m still convinced: sound reason and ethical principles may be all well and good, but at least occasionally we should respond to our gut feelings. ▪
Jürgen Ziemer lives in Hamburg and works as a writer, among other things for Die Zeit and Rolling Stone. As a keen cook he particularly likes to experiment with Italian and Thai cuisine.