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Four sustainability thoughts from a birthday lunch in Hamburg

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Dinah took me out for my birthday, a very nice lunch in a neighbourhood restaurant called Drei Tageszeiten. It was great. And we walked there, a good reminder of all that is good about urban living. As I was sipping my wine, a few thoughts came to me. They’re about the food, the drinks, the dog, and the door – and how these can be expression of sustainability as expressed in daily life.

The food
What’s notable on the menu is what’s not found in it. Germans eat seasonally. In the spring you can’t escape asparagus; now they’re nowhere to be found, whether in restaurants or in groceries. Ditto for strawberries, chanterelle mushrooms (everywhere in August), and so on. Dinah and I both had a squash soup: an excellent one, because it is seasonal and made from local produce. What that means is support for local agriculture. It also means that people appreciate the natural cycle of the seasons: the first asparagus! the first apricots! the first local apples! the first new potatoes! They taste so much better when you wait for them. This promotes local agriculture, and often organic agriculture as well.

I ate a filet of Sankt-Peter. One of the great joy of Hamburg is the availability of local fish and seafood, often species I’ve never heard of. I looked up the fish later: its English name John Dory, a widely spread coastal fish often found as bycatch in trawling nets. Unfortunately, in contrast to well-understood organic produce, there is little awareness of sustainable seafood here. My little bit of research shows that the John Dory stocks are probably doing okay, but little is known about them; so as for asking the waiter whether this is from a sustainable fishery, forget it. But man, is this fish ever tasty!

The drinks
Dinah chose a rhabarber schorle. That is something I’ll miss: the juices. And it’s something I wish existed in Canada to help fruit growers: here are juices of every kind, available everywhere. Apple, of course, but also cherry, peach, pear, black current, even rhubarb, Dinah’s choice. The schorle part comes from the custom of mixing the juice with sparkling water (they also do that with beer and wine). It’s excellent.

The downside, from an environmental standpoint, is that Germans buy enormous amounts of bottled water. But fizzers – contraptions that are used to make ordinary tap water sparkling – are becoming popular. I may want to get one for home. I got to like fizzy water, but I still hate the idea of buying water.

The dog
A couple came in the restaurant with their dog, an adorable schnautzer-dachshund cross, who sat quietly under the table. Dogs are everywhere in this country, including public transit. Which means that someone who owns a dog doesn’t have to own a car in order to take their dogs on long walks in forested areas, something commonly done here. Good for dogs, good for their owners, and good for urban planning and transportation.

The door
Leaving and entering the restaurant, I noticed how heavy the door was. In fact, it’s like that much everywhere: doors and windows are heavy because they have good, thick insulating features like triple glazing. I told a local acquaintance that we recently replaced the windows in our Vancouver home to get better insulation. He asked whether they were triple paned; I said no, that would have meant importing really costly windows from Germany. They’re made in Germany, not in Canada. That’s because German policy has created a demand here, so they are manufactured here, common and relatively cheap. But not so in Canada, and since windows come in all kinds of sizes, and are heavy, importing them to Vancouver makes little sense.

Just a few of the things I’d like to see in Canada when I return. C’mon, indulge me, it’s my birthday!

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