The days when Nordic food was viewed as nothing but heavy, meat-based stews are long gone. Today Nordic food is associated with simplicity, sustainability, and seasonality. How did this come to be, and how can this way of thinking be used to address the challenges of nutrition, climate, and urban development?
The UN General Assembly is underway in New York, and as part of a prominent line-up of speakers, I will discuss the global challenges of urban food systems at EATxUNGA. I believe that a Nordic approach is highly relevant to targeting these global issues.
It all started in 2004, with cooperation between creative Nordic chefs and innovators wishing to change the Nordic food culture, an initiative supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, among others. The result has been a radical change to the Nordic food scene.
A decade later, we are witnessing a striking trickle-down effect in the way people look upon food in Nordic cities. A genuine and holistic new Nordic everyday diet is taking shape – a diet in which both nutrition and sustainability play important roles. I believe that this is an important democratisation of good and sustainable food in the Nordic countries.
This new Nordic everyday diet resonates with the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (first established in 1980) – a common set of Nordic recommendations accompanied by Nordic nutritional monitoring. These are tools that help policymakers implement food policies such as nutritional guidelines and front-of-pack labelling, as well as to establish strong trust-based partnerships among governments, NGOs and the food industry.
As is the case in most of the world, the Nordic countries have not been able to completely stop the epidemic of overweight and malnutrition. However, compared to most other developed countries, we have managed to slow down the rise in overweight and obesity and are showing some important signs of improvements in diet. I’m convinced that the nutrition recommendations play an important part in this.
Consequently, this new Nordic Food Movement – although not so new any longer – together with the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations are important parts of the Nordic approach to the challenge of sustainable urban food systems.
Another important part of the democratisation process are the approximately 5.5 million meals that are served daily from more than 55,000 public kitchens in the Nordic countries. In Sweden, since July 1st, 2011 it has been written into the Education Act that all school meals should be nutritious. In Copenhagen, 90% of the ingredients in all public meals are organic. Oslo and other Nordic cities also have ambitious goals with respect to organic public meals.
The Nordic Food Movement has turned out to be a driver for change as well as a policy tool. Through the energy and entrepreneurship of their citizens, cities can bring radical – and sustainable – change to our food systems. These examples from the Nordic Region highlight how cities can be engines for transforming food culture, and thus the food systems of whole regions.
But the Nordic Food Journey is far from over. We will continue to democratize good food in the Nordic countries by strengthening Nordic co-operation between agents of change.
We are now – in co-operation with EAT – establishing a Nordic Cities EAT Initiative. The Nordic cities have recently all started prioritizing food policy. We will help the cities learn from each other, discover new solutions, and continue the dialogue on the Nordic experience with a global audience. In the years to come, this will be carried out as part of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Prime Minister Initiative on Nordic solutions to global challenges.
Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers
This blog post was originally published in Huffington Post.