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Food, the environment and people

Sigurður Ólafsson/
In ten years' time we will have taken responsibility for children's health and well-being and will no longer submit to processed food lacking in taste and nutrition.

Carola Magnussson

We will have understood the importance of diet for the risk of being diagnosed with, for example, Asperger's, diabetes and gluten intolerance and will have implemented changes that mean that children are served organic, healthy school meals with a minimum of sugar and unnecessary additives.  We will also have opened up our school restaurants so that guests can choose what they want to eat, and enjoy a lovely walk to stretch their legs.

Organic versus conventional

Anyone who has ever compared the taste of an organic, vine-ripened strawberry with a bloated, greenhouse strawberry knows that there is a huge difference in taste. The same experiment can be done with any industrial product whatsoever, compared to a version that you have made yourself with good ingredients - from hamburgers to breaded fish.

The common denominator of the agriculture and food industries is efficiency and profitability. The entire modern food production is geared towards producing as much as possible in the smallest possible space and in as short a time as possible.

Our food is reduced to straight production lines where economy always comes before taste and variety. The concentration of taste and nutrients that occurs only when plants are given time is replaced by water and air. To compensate for this, additives such as aromas and flavour enhancers need to be added when the ingredients are later processed by the food industry.

Therefore, the food that we give to both ourselves and our children has lost a great deal of taste and nutrition.


I refuse to be a part of this. That's why I have chosen to go in the opposite direction - the green, organic way.
To find food with a concentration of both taste and nutrition requires us to choose the organic options. Cereals that are grown without stress and where there is diversity in both variety and the manner in which the flour is milled and the grain is rolled. Dairy products from cows that have been permitted to be cows with all that that implies, to be outside and graze on non-toxic grass and where the calf is not separated from its mother immediately after birth. Eggs with almost orange coloured yolks, and without the funny taste of concentrated fodder, from hens that have been allowed to peck and be outside.

The debate on food and the environment is complicated. What is good for the earth and biological diversity is not always the most climate-smart option. Long journeys produce greenhouse gas emissions but conventional crops grown in the region are tough on nature. Not all domestic greenhouse grown crops are climate-smart when you consider the excessive use of energy.

My view is the following: organic is always better than conventional, regardless of where in the world it is grown. I want neither the soil nor the water here or anywhere else in the world to be polluted by nitrogen leaching and residues. But if I have the choice, I will take something that is both organic and locally produced. And I will exclusively choose seasonal foods - so I get flavour intensity at the same time.

Choosing organic is more expensive. But it also depends on how you choose to look at it. Unlike conventional production, organic farming bears its own costs, while food produced on a large-scale is far too cheap. The real costs are those which the animals and the environment pay - and ultimately our children and grandchildren.

Organic school meals

The food that we serve in the school restaurants that I manage is not more expensive than other school food. Our secret is to follow the seasons, to cook from scratch and to let vegetables be king. To use instead of throwing out, use the entire ingredient and thus treat food with the respect it deserves.

Children are our primary capital in the future. A living, creative capital which must be nourished instead of being poisoned. A capital which, in a natural way, should encounter flavours that are produced naturally, in harmony with both small and large ecosystems.

I consider it to be my job, and that of all school cooks, to foster a broad spectrum of tastes that the little diner to takes home from his taxpayer-paid school lunch. In my world, it is also obvious that food should be cooked as close to the guests as possible. Just as I want to know who has produced the ingredients, I want the guests to know who has cooked the food. For me that is the love of food. I believe in the power of this, both in cooking and in the actual production.

Take a typical lunch dish which is often the children's favourite: meatballs with mashed potato, lingonberries sauce and cream gravy. This dish, which is also the bearer of part of our cultural history, can have completely different effects on our children's health and the taste experience they will carry with them into the future.
Because what is it usually like in our school restaurants around the country? Yes, they serve store-bought meat balls of unidentified origin with a low meat content. The mashed potato is made from powder made in an industrial process with various additives. The lingonberry sauce is store-bought and mixed with equal parts of apple and currants, and thickening agents. The cream gravy has never seen any real cream - this is powder stirred into boiling water.

Compared to the meatballs which I serve in my school kitchen, made with minced beef from a nearby farm and with breadcrumbs from our home-baked sourdough bread, organic eggs and good seasoning in the mixture. Served with mashed potatoes made from organically grown potatoes, mashed and beaten with milk, butter, sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. And with frozen lingon mixed together with sugar, and a cream gravy made with bone stock.

The difference between these two meatball lunches is like night and day. You can hardly even call them the same dish. 
And it is not just about the difference in taste, texture and experience, but also the conditions for those who cook the food. The more we cook from scratch with good ingredients, the more the cooks in public gastronomy take pride in their work.

Activities and movement in conjunction with school lunches

Another thing that is much talked with regard to children, food and the future is the growing problem of overweight amongst today's young people, and the lack of physical activity. Even in this area I believe that school restaurants play an important role. Not only to serve good and healthy food, which is well balanced from a nutritional perspective, but also because we actually should be able to encourage our guests to be more active. I would like to make the case for a walk before school lunches, a bit of activity and solidarity, where the students get some fresh air and work up an appetite.

My idea is also to introduce new thoughts, ideas and perspectives by letting the students swap their meal environment sometimes. Because I now run six different school restaurants I can do this - let the students swap lunch restaurants with each other when it suits. But this could be work in any municipality. It opens the door not only for lovely walks, but also for exciting encounters with new people.

A the good meal is in fact about all this - about food and the environment and also about meetings and people.

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