The Nordic sustainability agenda: a powerful driver of food systems change

Upon its release in 2003, the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto became an important catalyst in igniting new discussions about environmental sustainability in food, agriculture and fisheries systems in the Nordic region. Now more than ever, there is a need to rethink our food. According to the EAT Lancet Commission, a diet that includes more plant-based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable, and good for both people and planet.
In this part of the Future of New Nordic Food series, we ask influencers, experts, festival coordinators, restauranteurs and scientists about how the New Nordic Food movement has changed the way we produce and consume food in the region and what we must do in order to maintain the momentum of positive change.

Written by Afton Halloran



Diets in the Nordic Region are changing. What are some of the positive trends that you have seen and how can the New Nordic Food ideology continue to influence food habits in the Nordic region well into the future?

We are seeing a decline in meat consumption and increase in both the consumption of plant-based foods and awareness about the environmental impacts of diets. The debate about sustainable food is alive and maturing, and there is momentum for change. I also see positive trends occurring at a municipal level, where the issue of more sustainable school food is gaining traction. There is still need for more competence within the capillaries of the municipal food system, but good examples are burgeoning, and target-setting is increasing.

A fundamental part of the success of the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto was the connection of the culinary world to the production system. Increased awareness and interest in how and where products were grown, caught or produced was at the core of the Manifesto. It’s important that this momentum is not lost as food production systems evolve. There is pressure on producers to cut costs and produce more efficiently, which, in turn, puts sustainability in jeopardy. I know that there is a strong line of communication that Swedish food is more sustainably produced, and I am pretty sure that this is also promoted by the respective farming organisations in the Nordics. However, we still see pesticide residues in agricultural run-off and eutrophication is a problem. We’re still using fossil fuels in production and biodiversity is in decline. A push for increased sustainability in the production system would insure that the Nordic food keeps its competitive advantage.

At the same time, influencing food habits goes together with good policy. On a local level, we see this emerging. However, on national levels, there is a strong need for better, more directed policy; Here, the Nordic Food Policy Lab of the Nordic Council of Ministers  could have a game-changing role. I believe that the time is ripe, and that the momentum that International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems recent report has generated on an EU level should be transformed into the Nordic levels in order to fill the gap that now exists.

  • Anna Richert, Food Expert at the World Wildlife Fund, Sweden (@WWFSverige)
Anna Richert

Anna Richert of the World Wildlife Fund, Sweden

WWF Sweden



Food has become an integral part of the Nordic festival scene. Which kinds of sustainable food experiences are festival-goers demanding? How is the Food and Fun festival in Iceland meeting these demands?

The core element of the Food and Fun Festival involves world-acclaimed chefs collaborating with Reykjavík’s finest restaurants. Through the Food & Fun Festival, we have been able to introduce Iceland’s clean, sustainable produce and techniques to top chefs from all over the world as well as restaurant guests. Iceland has for some time now been widely recognized for the purity and sustainability of its nature and produce. Our lambs graze free in the bright and open highlands, the seafood is sustainably sourced, Icelandic dairy products are being admired for their freshness and purity, and everything that Icelanders grow in greenhouses is fuelled by the nations vast resource of renewable and sustainable geothermal energy.

In Iceland, we celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship that aims to aid Iceland’s pursuit towards a fully sustainable nation. Advancements have been made in the way we grow fruits and vegetables through hydroponics, new machinery allows us to utilise every piece of fish or meat leading to less food waste, and the most important breakthrough has been in the mind-set and awareness of the people, who are now more than ever focused on eating as sustainably as possible. Through the Food & Fun Festival we have introduced thousands of people from all over the world to the uniqueness and freshness of Icelandic produce and we certainly hope that our festival can continue to spread the message of food sustainability and purity across the world.

  • Óli Hall, Event Coordinator of the Food and Fun Festival, Iceland (@foodandfunfest)
Óli Hall

Óli Hall of Food and Fun Festival, Iceland

Food and Fun Festival



Social media has a major role to play in influencing food trends. How do you encourage your followers to eat climate-friendly food?

We encourage our followers to eat more plant-based foods as the research shows that this is the single most effective thing every individual can do for the planet. We focus solely on positive encouragement, such as showing our followers how to make mouth-drooling foods just from plants. We also encourage them to have meat-free days, or to try to eat a green breakfast every single day by giving them suggestions for what to eat. We also make sure to tell our followers where they can find plant-based foods if they are going out to eat. Lastly, we try to share the latest research on food and sustainability, but by making it easy and fun to read about. It’s all about making this information easy and accessible for everyone.

  • Anette & Susanne Bastviken, Radical Broccoli, Norway (@radicalbroccoli)
Anette and Susanne Bastviken

Anette and Susanne Bastviken of Radical Broccoli 

Marlene Sæthre



What kinds of trends have you been seeing in Finland when it comes to the promotion of sustainable food production and consumption? How have things changed over the past 15 years?

Plant-based eating is receiving increased attention in Finland as the debate over climate change is heating up. In Finland, the chefs in public food services have been in the forefront to the transition to food that is better for the planet. They are updating the menus at the school, kindergarten and workplace canteens to become more sustainable. In Finland, public food services have played a significant role in promoting healthy eating. In the future, their support for sustainable diets and eating will increase in relevance. The consumption of meat in Finland has nearly tripled since the 1950’s. This is far too much – both from the point of view of our personal health and that of the environment. In public food services, the promotion of sustainable diets in the future requires not only greater attention to recipe development and sustainable sourcing, but also to changing tastes and eating behaviour of young people. In the future, eating a public meal in Finland should be a guarantee that you are served sustainable and nutritious food. That is the future frontier for New Nordic Food prepared by brave chefs.

  • Minna Kaljonen, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute Environmental Policy Centre, Finland (@MinnaKaljonen)
Minna Kaljonen

The plant-based Aurinkovuori macaroni casserole was given a prize at the School Food Competition in 2016. It was prepared by the chefs of the municipal canteen of Asikkala 

Finnish School Food Competition



You have prioritised sustainability in your restaurants. What have you done differently? How will you continue to put sustainability front and centre?

When we opened Kødbyens Fiskebar in 2009, there weren’t that many people thinking about how to serve delicious and sustainably caught seafood. At first, we started by reading the sustainable fish guides offered by organizations like WWF and Greenpeace. We then moved to work directly with an organization representing local fishermen that didn’t use destructive fishing practices like trawling. We have since opened two more restaurants, Musling and Rouge Oyster Bar, in Copenhagen.

Together with the fishermen and fishmongers, our restaurants have influenced both the supply and demand for seafood that ensures a healthy marine ecosystem. As a restaurant we ensure that we pay a fair price for the products that we receive and support a holistic vision of the local fisheries industry that we believe in. Unlike many other restaurants, we are also willing to purchase the by-catch (the incidental capture and mortality of non-target marine species during fishing). Subsequently, our main menu is developed based on what is available to us. At any time, our restaurants are serving approximately 20 different species of fish. We have also been working with fishermen and oyster farmers to buy invasive species of octopus, mullet, squid and oysters that are increasingly showing up in Danish waters. This is our way of eating ourselves out of a problem!

  • Anders Selmer, Co-founder of Kødbyens Fiskebar, Musling and Rouge Oyster Bar, Denmark (@Selgmigfisk)
Anders Selmer

Anders Selmar, Co-founder of Kødbyens Fiskebar, Musling and Rouge Oyster Bar, Denmark

Oscar Haumann

These stories are a part of a series about the future of New Nordic Food. Follow Afton Halloran, sustainable food systems expert, as she listens to different voices from around the Nordic region.