Healthy Food, work-related Stress – and Christmas

It’s been a while since my last blog. The reason: Christmas. Well, not “Christmas” itself, but rather the business around it, which this year I got very much involved in.

The reason for that: “money”, of course. What else. Because of my current financial situation it had suddenly, in a moment of utter inspiration, occured to me that I might just as well, after many years of turning my back at it, not wanting to ever do any kind of gastronomy work at all, being so happy I didn’t have to any more… that I might just make use of that talent of mine that I have with people when selling / serving them food and drinks, making them have a good time, and work at one of the MANY Christmas markets in Vienna. Work many hours in December for a low wage, which would eventually add up to pay some bills. Christmas markets! Oh, why not! So lovely! I adore that feeling! Or at least, I used to…

My personal standards in quality of food and drinks have risen over the last years, including my consciousness of what needs to be in it and how the people running a business, selling food, preparing it, etc. should feel about doing it. That’s why I wanted to think well where to work. Over the past years I hadn’t been in Vienna much, but I remembered a Punsch place (Punsch = hot alcoholic beverage on a juice base, with herbs, spices, possibly wine to round up the taste) at “Karlsplatz”, where  organic hot wine, “Emperor’s Punsch” with elderberry spirit and Seitan dishes were sold. After a little bit of research, google presented me with the phone number, and I myself to the owner. He already had enough people, but there would always be someone to get sick or something like it. I sounded nice and should stop by next week when they were putting up the stand. They did need my help, quite a lot of it. The atmosphere among the colleagues was relaxed. The quality of food excellent, as well as healthy. I even managed to finish up my detox with the three juice days in the end while working there.

In the beginning I didn’t have that many shifts, therefore I was helping out at a stand at the Spittelberg Christmas market as well. Working there, feelings of resignation were arising within me. The management was the complete opposite to the other place. Instead of homemade vegan onion lard and hearty lentil stew I would sell Käsekreiner Hot Dogs instead (Käsekreiner = typical cheese sausage) – I do have a ton of respect now for the guys running those sausage stands (=Würstelstand) in Vienna and their attitude!

Food Standards

It was shocking for me to see how people CHOOSE to basically poison themselves. Like crazy they would eat baked potatoes we would sell for 5,90 Euros a piece with some sort of creamy stuff on it. I don’t know exactly what one potato cost the restaurant, but I am sure it was well below 1 Euro. I am not even sure how much sour cream was in the so-called kind of sour cream that place served.
At Karlsplatz we sold organic and vegan food. Here are a few situations I would like to share with you to make your own conclusions:

Situation 1 “Food for children”:
– Customer: Do you have fries or sausages? Anything for children?
– Me: We have Seitan burgers and bread with different colorful spreads on it.
– Customer: Don’t you have anything for children? The wouldn’t want that.
– Me: You can let them try it. They don’t know it’s healthy.

Situation 2 “Food that is too healthy”:
– Customer: The lard you have is vegan?
– Me: Yes. It’s a homemade onion lard with coconut fat.
– Customer: And it’s vegan. It’s no lard.
– Me: Yes. And it tastes delicious.
– Customer: No, the vegetarian stuff is not for me. That’s too healthy. (walks away, smiling, shaking his head)

Alternative Ending to Situation 2:
– Customer: No, what you sell is too healthy. I am old anyway. It’s too late. (walks away, smiling, shaking her head)

Often parents would not even let their children try the “healthy stuff”. When they heard we didn’t have “real” burgers, but Seitan burgers, they doubted their kids would like them. They wouldn’t even ask the kids or give them a choice. Some parents decided that this was too healthy for their kids. I looked into those children’s eyes, where I saw curiosity and willingness to try out new things. Even those funny sounding burgers with colorful sauces inside (also vegan, which of course they didn’t know and care about). My boyfriend and his son – no strangers to eating meat – tried it out during one of my first shifts. Every time they came by at night after that they would want a Seitan burger, the 7-year-old boy loving it.

Seitan is a meat substitute, a wheat protein. We don’t “need” Seitan as a substitute for meat, but it tasted great as a patty in burgers or even instead of bacon in a hearty stew – just like Tofu does. Ed, the owner, makes the Seitan we sold himself and sells it per kilo. We had our own cook coming up with inventive recipes, often playing with the traditional Austrian kitchen and creating vegan versions of it. Every night I came home with new ideas and inspirations for the kitchen.

still in a good mood and actually ENJOYING work after 5 weeks
still in a good mood and actually ENJOYING work after 5 weeks

Christmas and the stress related to it

I worked a lot of shifts, but not anywhere near the amount of hours stand owners and others did. At Karlsplatz, it’s the artists themselves selling their work. They come from all over Austria and for the 6 weeks before Christmas are out there every day. The market is open until the 23rd. On the 24th, some start taking down the little huts to go home for Christmas to their families. Not because of Christmas, December is originally a more inwards and family oriented time: it’s the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, with the winter solstice of the 21st as it’s peak. Naturally, it’s a time for hibernation, nesting, taking care of the inside of the house, the body, the soul.
Christmas commercialization means it’s the time in the year where many businesses these days can earn the largest amounts of money. I also used this fact to pay some bills. Theoretically I could have worked more. But then again, I couldn’t. I wanted to stay in tune with what I regard as the true energy of this time of year and have time for my own well-being. I walked home with plenty of money in the end, and even though I didn’t manage to cover all the bills that need to be paid by the end of January, I felt relatively relaxed with my family over the holidays. Whatever family tension occurred it wasn’t enhanced by my Christmas market tension. We were able to enjoy our time together. I was rested. And I trust I will be able to advance well with my work over the next few days and weeks to be able to pay those bills in time, which is important, but it will not dictate my sanity!