Changing Nordic food and lifestyles: eight entry points

02.03.21 | News
Insight Papers_Nordic Food Systems Transformation
Peter Hove Olesen/Ritzau Scanpix
Transforming food systems is a shortcut to sustainable lifestyles. This was the message from the 115 people who participated in the “Towards sustainable Nordic food systems” project. To achieve transformative change, the Nordic region can build on the shared history of collaboration. Despite the bumps on the road to 2030, four new insight papers demonstrate the potential to push food production and consumption towards a more sustainable trajectory.

Between 2019 and 2020, a series of engaging dialogues involving a wide range of perspectives were carried out in each of the Nordic countries. Participants were encouraged to think broadly about the positive and negative impacts of food system change on all aspects of sustainability, including healthy diets, environmental sustainability, and prosperous livelihoods. Now, the analyses of these dialogues have been made public.

We have the tools

The insight papers identify eight specific entry points for Nordic collaboration and existing springboards that can be used to expedite the transition to sustainable food systems. Barriers to transformation and recommendations on how to overcome these barriers are also covered. In the final brief, uncertainties are highlighted, and tools to help address knowledge gaps are explored.

“The pathways to sustainable food systems will be filled with bumps in the road, but these Insight Papers illustrate that there is a wide range of existing initiatives, networks, tools and knowledge to draw on that will help us navigate towards our goals,” says Amanda Wood, project manager of the Towards sustainable Nordic Food Systems project.


Eight opportunities for Nordic collaboration on sustainable food systems

The Nordics can work together to:

  1. Define sustainable diets in the Nordic context
  2. Accelerate a social movement towards sustainable food
  3. Develop a tool to assess the sustainability trade-offs and benefits of different production systems
  4. Bolster the agricultural and food sector workforce
  5. Ensure thriving countrysides and urban-rural connections
  6. Build an equitable and just food system transformation
  7. Address the out-sourced impacts of Nordic food systems
  8. Rethink a competitive export market for Nordic food

Building a sustainable society together

The briefs are the outcome of a series of dialogues in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The 115 participants represented government, civil society organisations, youth groups, research, consumer groups, producer organisations and funding bodies. Of this group, nearly 90% agreed that Nordic food systems need to change if their country is to reach its sustainability goals.

Half of the dialogue participants felt that the pathways towards sustainable food systems were uncertain. Nevertheless, 88% of participants felt that the Nordic countries should tackle shared food system challenges together. These challenges include avoiding increased diet-related inequality and exciting younger generations to take up careers in food production.

“These kinds of dialogues are critical. Involving a variety of perspectives and encouraging regional cooperation are essential if we want to address food systems challenges together,” says Annica Sohlström, Director General of the Swedish Food Agency. 

Sustainable diets, sustainable lifestyles

One central entry point to changing food systems is through shifting diets. Diets are a powerful lever because they connect multiple sustainability aspects, including human health and environmental sustainability.

To strike a balance between human and planetary health, current eating patterns in the Nordic region will need to include more fruit, vegetables, whole grain, seeds, nuts and legumes. 

Many citizens should also consume less added sugar, salt and unhealthy fats, and reduce consumption of red and processed meats and overall energy intake. While there are signs that Nordic youth are increasingly interested in sustainable diets, significant change cannot be realised by one part of society alone.

Sustainable consumption and production are key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Towards sustainable Nordic food systems project used scenarios to depict different potential futures and dietary patterns, including less red meat and more legumes and nuts.

A history of cooperation

The Nordic region has a history of cooperating on lifestyle and food-related issues. The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, a single set of integrated, concise recommendations for Nordic populations, were first released in the 1980s.

Since 2004, the Nordic governments have supported the co-creation of a new Nordic food identity through the New Nordic Food Manifesto. Other forms of cooperation include the Keyhole front-of-package labelling scheme and an agreement to halve food waste in the region by 2030. Between 2021 and 2024, the Nordic Council of Ministers will focus on sustainable lifestyles in the region, in which changing dietary behaviour plays a significant role.

The project, Towards sustainable Nordic Food systems, was managed by Amanda Wood from the Stockholm Resilience Centre together with lead investigator Line Gordon. Afton Halloran, an independent consultant in sustainable food systems transitions, facilitated the dialogues. The Nordic Council of Ministers provided financial support for the project.