The origin of the species

chinaI like to think that I’m a conscious consumer in that I check the labels of everything I buy and decide whether or not to purchase based on where it was made. I do this, even though I heard recently from someone who was outsourcing clothing designs to be fashioned in China. They were asked by the supplier where they’d like the label to say they’d been made: Vietnam? India? Sri Lanka? The world was theirs for the making.

Last week, a Hungarian friend was presenting a paper at a European Association of Agricultural Economists (EAAE) seminar in Parma on Intellectual Property Rights for Geographical Indications. I tagged along. And I was educated.

bekA geographical indication (GI) is ‘a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. In order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place […] Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original makjplace of production.’ Hungary has a few GIs, including szegedi paprika (paprika from Szeged), makói hagyma (onions from Makó), and békéscsabai kolbász pap(sausage from Békéscsaba). To achieve GI status, producers have to follow a litany of rules and regulations and the complete life of the product should be visible to the consumer, assuming they know what to look for. Or even care to look.

Most of the produce on sale in a supermarket in Budapest shows its point of origin. I can make informed decisions about what to buy. Not so with the meat though. At the larger markets, if I ask where the carrots, or the cabbages, or the parsnips were grown, I’m met with a shrug. I might get a tentative ‘Magyar’, but it’s so weak that I am reluctant to believe it. In my innocence, I had thought that all the sellers were selling their own products but I discovered that most buy wholesale and then sell on. I was shocked to see that vegetables rank No. 22 on the list of fastest-growing imports to Hungary, and mainly from Spain.

So what if I want to support Hungarian-grown produce that I know is from Hungary? Not just because it says so on the label (paper will take any print) but because I can trust the supplier. I asked my friend, who is well up on all things food-related, and she pointed me in the way of a webshop that has three pick-up points in Budapest (districts V, VIII, and XIII). I can order Hungarian produce online and have it delivered to the pick-up point on Tuesday or Thursday. The website shows photos of the producers and lists their products. I am well impressed. There’s also an option to pay for home-delivery. is a similar initiative, specialising in home delivery of boxes of fresh, seasonal, organic fruit and vegetables grown within a 50-km radius of Budapest. Again, sources are transparent. And if I don’t have time to cook I can order from that offers home-cooked food using locally sourced ingredients. They deliver their fresh food in biodegradable packaging by bike. Nice!

Yes, there are smaller markets like Hyundai tér market on a Saturday where everything on sale is produced in Hungary (I trust), but it isn’t always convenient and I still don’t know where exactly the stuff comes from and who’s grown/produced it. I want to have more of a relationship with my food – if we’re on better terms, perhaps I might be a little more selective about what I eat. And that can only be good.

First published in the Budapest Times 24 April 2015