We think of Switzerland as a land of millionaires and watch makers, but actually the country’s largest economic sector is agriculture—and much of that agricultural production comes from small farms, which are protected by tariffs and supported with subsidies. Switzerland produces about 60 percent of the food consumed in the country and close to 100 percent of the potatoes, beef and dairy foods. A lot of vegetables and fruit (and Swiss wine) comes from tidy terraced vineyards, orchards and gardens. We were especially impressed with the sight of fruit trees in hedges (for easy picking) with convenient netting slung from trellises to keep out the birds.
Since 1998 Switzerland has required strict observance of good environmental practices of farms receiving subsidies. Before farmers can apply for subsidies, they must obtain certificates of environmental management systems proving that they “make a balanced use of fertilizers; use at least 7 percent of their farmland as ecological compensation areas; regularly rotate crops; adopt appropriate measures to protect animals and soil; make limited and targeted use of pesticides.” A large portion of farms engage in organic production and most beef and dairy cows are grazed on pasture. And Switzerland is largely GMO-free.
Nevertheless, hundreds of Swiss farms go out of business every year. Recently the price that dairy farmers receive for their milk dropped from one Swiss franc per liter (about four dollars per gallon) to forty-two cents. This is still more than American farmers receive, but not enough to sustain their business. Suicide among farmers has become common.
I visited Manor in Geneva—the equivalent of Whole Foods in the U.S. The food was definitely expensive, though not the kind of expensive that would make you faint. Placards in the meat sections advertised the fact that the chickens were raised out of doors (élevées en plein air), the cows grazed on pasture and the pork came from small family farms (porcs issus de petites exploitations familiales.) A large section featured charcuterie of every imaginable type, including various patés, terrines and foie gras—something you don’t see in an American Whole Foods—and an equally large section displayed cheese of every sort. I found bone broth in glass jars and decent kombucha. Sour dough bread was featured in a special display. The store had sauerkraut for sale, but I am not sure it was raw. Most gratifying was the beef section, where a roast with at least one-half inch of fat begged to be photographed:
Some lean cuts came wrapped in fat—reminding me of drawings in the old Joy of Cooking cookbooks:
The meat at the Co-op, the equivalent of Safeway or Giant, was much leaner—only a mere one-eighth inch of fat around the edges of the rib roast and no beautiful roasts wrapped in fat. From this I suppose you could conclude that millionaires are smart enough to know that beef is best when eaten with the fat. . . or maybe that eating fatty beef will make you smart enough to be a millionaire! The Co-op did display a poster of butter, calling it “good and natural (bon et naturel). You definitely do not see the huge displays of margarine and spreads in Switzerland.
Raw milk is difficult to find in Switzerland, but thanks to a WAPF supporter in Geneva, I did find some beautiful biodynamic Brown Swiss milk at a health food store, costing 3.25 Swiss Francs per liter (abut thirteen dollars per gallon). However, most of the milk in the supermarkets is ultrapasteurized.
I hear that in France raw milk is booming, with raw milk vending machines everywhere. It is sometimes even available in supermarkets, although you have to be careful because what might be called “raw” or “natural” is often micro-filtered, and milk labeled as “fresh milk” is simply pasteurized, not homogenized—so you have to be savvy about labels in Europe, just as here.
At one of the talks, Swiss dairy farmer Andre Muller described how he dealt with low dairy prices—by selling raw milk directly to consumers for one and one-half francs per liter (about six dollars a gallon), or two francs delivered. His milk sales weren’t making him rich, he explained, but they kept him from going out of business.
It’s safe to say that by and large, the Swiss eat better than Americans—enjoying plenty of cheese, eggs, butter, paté and charcuterie. But their diet certainly isn’t perfect. There’s lots of junk food for sale at Manor and the Co-op—cold breakfast cereals, white bread, pastries and sodas like Coca-Cola. The Swiss are also huge chocolate eaters—they have the second highest rate of chocolate consumption in the world, just after Germany. You see chocolate for sale everywhere; a uniformed ticket-taker on the Swiss trains was giving out chocolate eggs to the children, and parishioners were invited to take a chocolate egg at Easter services. The chocolate section at Manor was larger than the produce section! Dr. Weston Price pointed to chocolate as one of the “displacing foods of modern commerce” in his chapter on Switzerland. (More on chocolate in an upcoming blog.)
A big thank you to R. Ryan of Geneva, Switzerland, for his help with this article.
The Weston A. Price Foundation is your source for accurate information on nutrition and health. Become a member (link) and support the work we do!
8 thoughts on “Food in Switzerland”
I have lived in Bern and there it was very easy to get raw milk directly from vending machines at the farm. I guess that could be the difference between the German and French speaking area.
We used to be able to get a huge amount of our foods from local farms. The local supermarket sadly had very little butter, but lots of margarine and often had people in to recommend the rapeseed oil containing butters and spreads. They also often had stands in the city where they recommended rapeseed oil for cooking and all kinds of other nasties. It’s a shame that things were changing so heavily there.
I did love being able to get a larger variety of meats from different types of animals and organ meats.
i was a lucky kid akter a winter in Chicago a visited my grandmas farm in wis. in the 50s cows where graising day and night and we drank raw milk all summer also vegies from an organic garden I was not sick as my Chicago cousins all winter I don’t think I knew how good it was as a child yours sincerely joan
A great “tour”! (Did you happen to see much Biodynamic foods?) I’m ready for a second chapter!
Uh-oh. I don’t think I want to know what you’re going to say about chocolate in the upcoming post…
I obtained a large list of milk vending machines in Switzerland about 8 years ago. Though the list is older, one can still call the farm to see if their machine is still being used. If anyone has an interest to this list, you will find my info as the Bern Swiss Chapter in the back of the WISE TRADITIONS magazine.
I should mention, that there are some great small butcher shops in Geneva, where they display practically all the organ meats of a pig in their show cases. The french Swiss seem to use more of all the parts then the german Swiss.
what is Dr Weston a prices referring to when he is talking about primitive people
and what national geographic show did Dr Weston a prices watch about primitive people
Switzerland is quite expensive in comparison to other countries, but I am glad we have very little of what goes on in other countries.. Very good food quality.
And fields are regularly sprayed with cow dung as fertilizer.
Next time you are in Switzerland, you have to try the Swiss Wool pork – it has an amazing taste, very juicy and succulent. Amazing. Best pork I ever had. This type of pig is very robust, they can be outside all year long. They have a lot of exercise, live in herds and are brought up very well, they get mother pig’s milk until the sow runs dry, about 2 months instead of only 3-4 weeks. The meat is very dark red and marbled with fat. And it does not shrink when cooked. Really amazing. This is the organic farm I order it from, in case you are interested. Hope you can try it one day. It is very nourishing and satisfying https://www.agrovision.ch/home/detail/article/wo-der-geschmack-auf-die-welt-kommt.html
Yes, I agree, it is hard to get raw milk – but they have at least raw butter in most health food stores. However, I have to order animal fats online, lard, goose fat, tallow, you can’t really find it in any store here.
Usually you have to tell the butcher to leave the fat on, they automatically cut it off for the customers. I hope that the Saturated animal fat trend will also come to Switzerland again.
My dad who grew up in Czech Republic on a big state owned farm told me how he loved the to eat the thin long chunks of sourdough bread spread with a very thick layer of goose fat and salt. as a boy. Who would eat something like that nowadays? All so scared of fat.