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19th Jan 2020

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New Nordic trend: shifting towards a plant-based diet

  • Young people eat more plant-based food because they want to reduce their environmental footprint (Photo: Joel Alvarez - norden.org)

Consumption patterns and attitudes are shifting in the Nordic area towards a more plant-based diet.

A survey from Ernst & Young found that 24 percent of Nordic consumers predict they will eat less meat in the next five years, primarily due to health and environmental reasons, and 34 percent of the Nordic consumers indicated that they would eat more vegetarian food.

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Approximately 30 percent of Swedish young people already eat more plant-based food because they want to reduce their environmental footprints, according to the Swedish Youth Barometer.

In Denmark, some eight percent of 18-35 year olds consider themselves "flexitarian" and choose not to eat meat at a certain number of meals per week.

The changing trends are picked up in the new report Solutions Menu from the Nordic Council of Ministers.

"We used to talk about energy, but now we also need to talk about our foods, otherwise we will never meet the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," Elisabet Skylare, senior adviser to the Nordic Council told EUobserver.

Overall, global food production contributes 20-30 percent to greenhouse gas emissions, with meat and dairy products affecting the global climate the most.

"There is a shift in the global agenda with food being added to the climate menu in a new way," Skylare added.

The food manifesto

The report highlights how the Nordic area food culture has changed during the past 10-15 years.

The change dates back to a least 2004, when Danish chefs formulated a new 10-point ideology and named it the New Nordic Food Manifesto.

"Together with my 'wingman' Jan Krag Jacobsen, I spent six months preparing a draft of the manifesto," Claus Meyer, one of the initiators, recalled.

The pair invited other chefs to become involved in the process and a New Nordic Cuisine Symposium was organised, with lectures by qualified politicians, scientists, farmers, food industrialists, teachers, researchers, retailers and international chefs.

They worked to find a way to make the Nordic area among the greatest food regions in the world and saw the potential of a billion kronor industry.

Out of the process was born, among other things, the Michelin-star restaurant Noma. It was opened in Copenhagen by chefs Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer.

The name Noma is an abbreviation of the two Danish words "nordisk" (Nordic) and "mad" (food).

"New Nordic Cuisine is the way they cook at Noma. But, for me, Noma is just one very extreme expression of the ideas in this ideology," Meyer said.

His idea is very simple - to make seasonal and locally-sourced produce more attractive.

"For me it can be a hospital, a company canteen or a housewife making something out of apples and cabbage. There is definitely no telling what the food has to look like, whether it's complex or simple on the plate."

The food manifesto became anchored in the Danish parliament because the food minister of that time fell in love with the idea and the Nordic Council formally added the ideology as a programme.

And now the revolution marches on.

Next stop is Manhattan, where the Bill Gates Foundation and the World Bank listen in at the UN high-level political forum in July, as well as the UN General Assembly. The Nordic solutions menu will also be presented at the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact in Tel Aviv in September where C40 city mayors representing 650 million people worldwide discuss food policy and it will be promoted at the upcoming 24th UN climate summit, COP24, in Katowice, Poland in December.

"We get a mail every week from a government some where in the world, asking how to do it," said Skylare.

The growing demand for information has motivated the Nordic Council to formulate the "Solutions Menu" with political and practical recipes for a food revolution.

It includes nutrition, culture, meals, waste and sustainability.

It is about making healthy choices easy, fighting the obesity crisis and help the food industry to cut salt.

Power of soft policies

One example mentioned in the report is the dishes served for patients at Herlev hospital near Copenhagen. The entire menu at the hospital is developed by two former chefs of Noma, and special attention is paid to reduce food waste and purchasing organic products.

Research has suggested patients recover faster when eating good food in the hospital. So what may appear at first as luxury could in fact turn out to be saving budgets.

The city of Copenhagen has adopted an overall goal of becoming CO2-neutral by 2025 and food is part of the plan..

Every day it serves 70,000 public meals in schools, kinder gardens, canteens and nursing home for the elderly and aims for 90 percent of the food served to be organic.

On 31 May 2018 a large majority in the City Council added further ambition, when it decided (by 45 votes to 7) that public meals should also become more plant based in future.

"It is well documented that more plant-based diet reduces the occurrence of, among other things, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, all of which are a major financial burden on healthcare," the proposal said.

Food that is produced and never eaten accounts for an estimated eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

"Food waste represents a huge loss of precious resources. We need to create awareness as well as incentives for behaviour change at all levels," said Karolina Skog, Sweden's environment minister.

The Nordic countries are, however, not planning to change their farm policies to support plant-based products.

Denmark, Finland and Sweden are members of the EU and can not change their policies fundamentally without a broader agreement in the EU.

Norway's farm policy has a special secondary aim - helping farmers to survive in very remote and harsh areas.

But soft policies, helped by citizens own engagement as consumers, pushes the changes through, Skylare said.

"Consumers have a strong power, when it comes to push for change".

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