Thank you to food enthusiasts Deeva Green and Lee Reitelman for this guest post. They moved from Brooklyn to Bordeaux, and stumbled across the Holy Grail of local, sustainable consumption at La Recharge.
When we made the decision to move from Brooklyn to Bordeaux, France last spring, we had only a vague notion of what lay in store for us. We had imagined a beautiful countryside lined by vineyards (in this we were right) and a quiet, bourgeois city with a culture not far removed from the 19th century (in this we were very wrong). At a minimum, we hoped Bordeaux might provide the fresh air and slower tempo we had begun to crave after several years of living in Brooklyn.
Within an hour of our arrival in the city, we found something so far up our alley that we could only interpret it as a sign that we had landed in the right place. There before us, within a few hundred meters of our new apartment, was a vision from our furthest-fetched hyper-local daydreams.
It took us a moment to even register what we were looking at. Taking up the better part of the window of a modest storefront was a hand-drawn map of France, dotted with sketches of various ingredients: leeks, pumpkins, radishes, kale, chocolate, and, of course, wine and cheese. Below the window were wooden crates brimming with fruits and vegetables, many of them still covered in dirt. We stepped inside.
La Recharge is one of the world’s first zero-packaging grocery stores, and the only such store in France. It stocks locally grown organic produce, as well as locally made groceries such as olive oil, bread, sheep cheese, raw milk butter, a range of flours from spelt to chickpea, local grain varieties — and even ecological cleaning solutions. It’s a place where old-world tradition and 21st century sustainable thinking meet.
Back in the summer, while co-writing a curriculum aimed at teaching New York City students about cultivation, sustainability and nutrition in the context of a school’s rooftop greenhouse, we concluded one of our lessons on food waste with an activity asking students to design a zero-waste grocery store. Walking into La Recharge was like walking into the very future we’d asked our students to imagine.
Inside La Recharge there is no plastic, cardboard or Styrofoam anywhere in sight; customers bring their own reusable glass jars — and always at least one wine bottle, to be filled at the store’s wine tap for four euros a liter. New glass jars and bottles line the shelf behind the cashier, available for purchase by eager first-timers like us.
La Recharge is committed to more than just environmental good. Unlike conventional grocery stores, which nowadays are likely to offer upwards of fifteen different varieties of eggs, La Recharge stocks only the very best, and nothing more. There is only one type of egg on offer, and chances are it was laid yesterday.
As we’ve since learned from Guillaume de Sanderval, 23, one of the store’s co-founders, the majority of customers at La Recharge don’t shop there out of a fanatical commitment to the environmental or health benefits of unpackaged food; they come for the difference in taste. The thing that unites these customers, who represent a wide demographic cross-section, is an appreciation for fresh food produced on a human scale.
On this point, Guillaume, Jules Rivet (La Recharge’s other co-founder), and the store’s loyal customers are in step with many of the leading food-thinkers in the world today: doing what is ecologically right doesn’t mean sacrificing taste or pleasure. What’s best for the planet and for our bodies is often best for our taste buds as well.
This is logical where food packaging is concerned: it’s impossible to eliminate packaging unless the food is in transit for only a short period of time. The shorter the transit, the fresher — and thus the better tasting — the food will be. (Not to mention its smaller carbon footprint!) What’s more, the nearer the source of your food, the more certain you can be of its origin and its quality.
And, as if another reason were needed to get on board with this model, minimal or no packaging means lower costs for the producer; savings which are then passed on to the consumer — making La Recharge not only the best but also one of the most affordable grocery stores in the area.
Welcome to the future.
Deeva Green and Lee Reitelman are writing from Bordeaux, France, where they currently live — teaching, cooking and learning about all things French. Deeva grew up in Toronto. Her background is in environmental policy and economics; she specializes in sustainable agriculture. Lee grew up in Detroit. He writes music and teaches writing, math and philosophy. They are avid cooks. You can check out Lee’s music here. This post first appeared on the blog for Deeva’s brother’s juice company, Greenhouse Juice Co. in Toronto.