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The Art of Generosity

 Nikolaj Danielsen
Nikolaj Danielsen
I want to see the end of the gastronomic cultural revolution fought exclusively from the kitchens and with the dinner-plate as its battleground. Instead I want to see the beginning of the people’s culinary revolution fought solely with the art of generosity, tearing down any division that keeps us from each other and prevents us from eating together.

Nikolaj Danielsen

Was New Nordic Food just another SLOW FOOD movement?

When taking inventory over the last 10 years, the New Nordic Food program has without a doubt created an unprecedented momentum for the collective Nordic food cultures. By giving this almost unrecognised gastronomic region a primary top-of-mind awareness throughout the world, and by introducing creative thinking into an otherwise conventional and reactionary industry, New Nordic Food has become an important activist and vehicle throughout this transformation of a whole industry. By co-creating and producing new prototypes within gastro-innovation, sensory-aesthetics, marketing by cutting edge, countless testing’s of new and contemporary business models and by net-working closely with the core-actors within it’s own vast growth layer.

But is this initially what New Nordic Food as a political program was set out to do? Or should there be more to it?

From my point of view, one of the fundamental arguments, when establishing the program, was that the Nordic people, on a whole, was in dire need of old kitchen knowledge reinvented and re-taught. Several generations of Nordic eaters had literary been dropped on the kitchen floor. It seemed like our elders had forgotten to pass on how to cultivate our local yield and this was seriously starting to show on both our regional health, culinary culture and general quality of life.

So what we in reality needed was a broader people’s movement towards a more happy, healthy and tastier living. And this is where, in my opinion, New Nordic Food has missed out on an important role as a forerunner. The movement that has been, has been all to slow and selective in its target groups, lacking a broader and more relevant dissemination, something along the lines of a basic user manual. A way to transform the overall discourse from haute cuisine into a more accessible pop-culture tone of voice, so that I, a culinary agnostic, easily could identify, acquire and exercise the core values of this New Nordic Kitchen into my everyday living.

Did you eat by yourself last night? - If so, you’re not alone.

So I find that the people of the Nordic region, has largely been left without any greater imprint of all this good work. This is maybe to be expected, when relying on any traditional top down approach. A proper peoples movement will take time, when waiting for the actions of our pears to influence our more common life choices - time that we cannot afford. 

The fact is that a staggering 80 % of our population live in urban communities further and further away from nature and our natural resources. Our social structures are becoming more segregated and we choose through our way of life to isolate ourselves on an individual basis – even within the privacy of our homes. Well over 20% of the population lives today alone.

In a region formerly know for its highly developed community culture it seems like a paradox that more and more of its population eat alone on a daily basis. So when we know that it is vital for the future of our society to ensure the existence of transverse communities that reaches further than the local street feast or a summer barbeque  - has the time then not come to address the fact that we, as a region, now need to redefine our sense of tripe. Where a sense of self is replaced with a more valuable sense of cohesion in a heterogenic and diverse community, and where the value I bring to the greater unity is bigger than “what’s in it for me”.

If we want to secure our hope of building a sustainable society that can meet the challenges of our immediate future – we need to invent new models for shared living. Not only because it would be nice, but because it is a necessity that we start redrawing the basic architecture of how to interact, both socially, environmentally, and economically.

To do so, it is my belief that we need to define a whole new discipline. A design discipline that will make us more knowledgeable regarding the meta-behavioural patterns of individuals in larger groupings. A discipline, that will enable us to create strong new change agents and physically bring us together. Mechanism’s within our daily life, that caries the power to reconnect, across age, social and cultural heritage. A new form of creativity that will restudy, redefine and rebrand the value and experience of the greater communitas, or how to thrive a peoples movement.

Community design – a people’s discipline

 If we look to another creative field for comparison, something similar has already taken place within the world of commercial music. Due to recent years of web-based retail development the industry has been forced to reinvent their whole business model based on the abrupt change in user behaviour. Suddently buying music no longer had to be done in public. You weren’t forced to buy the whole artwork, and each individual, owned the right to pluck and play however he or she desired, creating customized playlist’s for greater personalization and for far less money.

But the subsequent anonymization of the music retail industry exposed a whole new development area. Based on the fans being far more isolated in their individual experience than before, a sudden need and demand for larger crowd experiences, communitas, was identified. This gave the live music industry reason to redefine and rebrand itself, and people are today enjoying and paying for the concert and festival-experience on a noticeable larger scale. The music industry has in my view been a forerunner in how to intelligently use community design as a way to reinvent and survive.

So the question is whether this can be projected on to food as a creative industry? And whether there is or will be the same need and growing demand for lager community experiences within a new regional or even global food-culture? I have no doubt!

In my humble opinion, food as part of the experience industry carries some of the strongest and most potent tools to equalize individuals and merge strangers into democratic communal structures by communicating directly through our senses onto our emotions.

To me the meal is the purest art of generosity. An almost sacred bond between the provider and the dependent. A dual and equal act of giving and receiving, where we share and brake bread together. Compared to the live music experience, which is based on one performance reaching all, the meal has to touch each individual separately and all participants have to acknowledge each other both spiritually and physically to make the ritual work.

Welcome to the age of generosity!

In Copenhagen we see this evolution carefully emerging. We have long since passed the roof of how many gourmet restaurants the city can contain and provide users for. Guests are today looking for extensions of their own dining room, something uncomplicated, predetermined and highly personal but with the power to bring people together. But in a society where it is still shameful to talk about the collective, one can only hope for a future that will generate strong new Nordic business models pushing the common meal as a sustainable community launcher. Commercial kitchens that will not be limited by time or space, that are able to act across all layers of any given society and link its users indiscriminately whilst consciously including any part of the meal circle from soil to soil into their value offer.

So in conclusion, I do find it premature, to inventory a New Nordic Food movement when there is so much more to be done. The way I see it, it is only now that the real work can begin and our collective creative experience bank can come into use. Not through any further aesthetical or sensory design challenges, but towards a globally relevant social, environmental and political design discipline. Investing in the future by becoming an incubator for new communities, across any industry, geographic boundary or human structure. A new generation of New Nordic Food, easily accessible, easy to relate to and never driven by exclusivity, injunctions or guilt, but by a broad public relevance and desire to participate.

I want to see the end of the gastronomic cultural revolution fought exclusively from the kitchens and with the dinner-plate as its battleground. Instead I want to see the beginning of the peoples culinary revolution fought solely with the art of generosity, tearing down any division that keeps us from each other and prevents us from eating together.

In the autumn of 2014, the Nordic Council of Ministers invited a group of leading players from across the Nordic Region to discuss their visions for the future of Nordic food. This essay formed part of this initiative #Nordicfood2024