Ever more consumers are interested in the origins of their food. In Germany, dairy farmers post videos of their cows online to show milk drinkers where their cartons come from.
Horse meat in lasagne, mad cow disease and pictures of chickens kept in factory farms without room to turn around: Given the number of food scandals exposed in recent years and growing awareness of the conditions some animals are kept under, more and more consumers want to know the exact origin of their edibles.
In the northern German state of Lower Saxony, the state association of dairy farmers came up with "My Kuhtube" in response. Almost 20 farmers from all over the state upload videos of their daily farm life to the online portal to satisfy consumers' hunger for information.
A glimpse into farm life
One of the participants is Dirk Böschen from the village of Grasberg, close to Bremen. When the friendly, robust man talks about his business, you don't hear any arrogance, even though he transformed the Böschen farm from a small, family-run operation into a successful business that employs 18 people.
"We've grown to 1,000 dairy cows here on our farm," Böschen told DW. "We milk them three times a day - that's really comfortable for the cows, because it clears their udders." One milk-through takes six hours, including clean-up, and 10 employees do nothing but milk cows.
To show interested consumers what exactly milking and other farm work look like, Böschen posts videos in the "My KuhTube" portal ("Kuh" is German for cow). Viewers can see how grass is mown, or watch Böschen tag newborn calves, for example.
"Not everyone will be able to visit a farm," Böschen said in explaining his participation in the "KuhTube" project. "But if someone is interested, it's great for that person to get information via the Internet."
Great public reception
The KuhTube concept was born around the end of 2012, when the Lower Saxony association of dairy farming started working on an idea to open agricultural processes to the public. "We realized that consumers are showing increasing interest in where their food comes from," said Christine Licher, spokeswoman for the dairy farming association. "With all the food scandals, consumers' insecurity has really gone up."
When the association wrote to 50 farmers, asking whether they wanted to share tidbits from their daily farm life, 16 of them agreed. They received basic training on how to operate the cameras provided by the association, and how to speak loudly and clearly in front of a camera. But the training was very basic - after all, Lichen said, they're not looking for polished actors: "We want to present realistic pictures straight from the cowshed."
The project has proven to be a hit with consumers: since its start in May 2013, the first 40 videos on "My Kuhtube" have gotten more than 92,000 clicks.
Wallet versus conscience
In Great Britain, people who want to learn more about their food can turn to "Which." The consumer organization reviews food labeling to make sure that when a label says 'regional', the food in question does in fact come from around the corner.
Meera Khanna from "Which" said the group has seen an increase in "ethical buying" - people are more interested in purchasing organic and local products. But there's also a counter-trend: "Some people do want to be more ethical, but with the economic crisis, they are feeling the squeeze," Khanna tells DW. "Price becomes a relevant factor."
Peter and Nance, two diners in a Portland, Oregon restaurant, didn't mind paying a higher price for a nice piece of chicken – but they want to know everything about it first. In a sketch from the US comedy "Portlandia," the fictional couple mocks food-conscious urban Americans.
The conversation starts out normal enough - could the waitress tell them a little about the chicken? Of course she can. The bird was a "heritage-breed, woodland-raised chicken that's been fed a diet of sheep's milk, soy, and hazelnuts." Were the hazelnuts are local, too? How much space did the chicken have to "roam free," the restaurant patrons ask.
The waitress shows them the restaurant's file on the chicken: "His name was Colin." Finally, the couple want to know whether Colin led a happy life and had other chicken friends. The waitress cannot answer - so the couple makes a visit to the farm themselves.
While the scene is a humorous exaggeration, it shows that ethical buying - and eating - has become part of pop culture. Ever more people today care about the origins of their food.
"KuhTube" farmer Dirk Böschen has always cared deeply about his animals. "Cows are my passion," he said. "A cow to me is life, nature. She produces milk, which is valuable and good for us. That's why a cow is the most fascinating creature on the planet for me."