Photo: / Duncan Rawlinson CC BY-NC-ND

A smorgasbord of sustainable solutions

Environmentally aware public procurement and the inclusion of sustainability in dietary guidelines are some measures already taken in the transition towards a sustainable food system.

“The Solutions Menu”1 is a report from the Nordic Council of Ministers featuring 24 practical examples of measures within the food sector in the Nordic countries. Around half of them are directly or indirectly relevant for environmental sustainability. Here follows some of the most interesting.

A holistic approach

Unlike many other similar documents, the “Climate Programme for Finnish Agriculture – Steps towards Climate Friendly Food”2, published in 2014, includes measures on both the production side and consumption side. This dual approach increases the likelihood that unwanted effects such as “carbon leakage” due to food imports and exports are detected and dealt with. One of the areas of action is reducing meat consumption, since “lower meat consumption is the main means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food consumption”. The suggested measures include developing domestic plant-based proteins and more advice for public kitchens.

Climate-smart food models

S.M.A.R.T. is an abbreviation for a checklist used by public kitchens in Sweden since 20013, in order to reduce environmental impact and improve health. The model entails: a larger proportion of vegetable-based food; fewer empty calories; a higher proportion of organic food; the right choice of meat and vegetables; and cutting down on transport.

The Danish Food and Veterinary Agency gives practical advice to consumers on how to eat more climate friendly.4 The recommendations include: finding climate-friendly alternatives to favourite foods (especially alternatives to meat); using more seasonal vegetables in all meals; consuming fish from Denmark; planning trips to the supermarket so as not to waste fuel on unnecessary trips; and avoiding the waste of food by eating leftovers.

Dietary guidelines

Back in 2012 the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations5 included a chapter about sustainable food consumption. One conclusion was that eating according to the recommendations has a lower environmental impact than the average Nordic diet.

Two years later, in 2014, the Finnish Nutrient Recommendations6 advocate higher intakes of vegetables, berries, fruit, whole-grain cereal products and fish, and lower intakes of red meat and meat products in general. If people were to follow these recommendations the environmental impact from food could be reduced by 20 per cent according to the document.

When the Swedish dietary guidelines7 were updated in 2015 they included wordings that acknowledge that plant-based foods have less of an environmental impact than foods of animal origin. Decreasing the consumption of foods of animal origin and increasing the consumption of plant-based foods is recommended to reduce the climate impact of the modern Swedish diet.

Finally, the Norwegian National Action Plan for a Healthier Diet8, published in 2017, suggests that a diet consisting of more fruit and vegetables, more fish and less meat, is a more sustainable diet.

Local government procurement

In 2006, the City of Copenhagen raised their goal for organic ingredients in meals cooked in public kitchens from 45 per cent to 90 per cent by 2015. This should be done without any additional funding, which required kitchens to rethink menus, work flows, food waste and procurement. The aim was also to improve the quality of food.

Since then other Nordic cities have set similarly ambitious targets:

  • Malmö, Sweden (population: 341,000): 100% organic by 2020, goal set in 2010
  • Helsinki, Finland (population: 630,000): 50% organic in preschools and day-care centres by 2015, goal set in 2011
  • Gothenburg, Sweden (population: 572,000): 100% organic meat, goal set in 2014
  • Lund, Sweden (population: 119,000): 100% organic food by 2020, goal set in 2015
  • Oslo, Norway (population: 672,000): 50% organic food by 2020, goal set in 2016
  • Lejre, Denmark (population: 27,000): 75% organic food by 2021, goal set in 2017

Besides these local initiatives the report also highlights different national strategies with targets to increase the production and consumption of organic food, such as the “Finland more organic plan” from 2013 and the “Organic Action Plan for Denmark” from 2015.

National food waste strategies

Three of the measures deal with food waste. This includes collecting data to better understand the dynamics of food waste, stakeholder involvement and support for innovative projects. One very hands-on action point has been to review the “best-before” labels on food. It was found that there were huge variations in the estimated durability within different product groups. Many companies have now taken upon themselves to make changes. One of Norway’s largest dairies has added “but-not-bad-after” dates to encourage consumers to use their own discretion to determine if a food item is edible or not.

A sustainable food culture

The link between gastronomy and sustainability is not obvious. In 2004 the Danish TV chef Claus Meyer and scientist Jan Krag Jacobsen drafted the New Nordic Food Manifesto9 as a starting point for a new movement. The ten-point manifesto acknowledges that ethical production should be a core value for the Nordic Kitchen, beside more culinary aspects such as food quality and taste, and this includes using local ingredients in season.

The report describes a trickle-down effect: when fine-dining restaurants started to embrace kale and turnips this inspired lunch restaurants, school canteens and families to follow this new style of cooking.

Kajsa Pira

Further reading:
1 (in English)
3 (in Swedish)
4 (in Danish)
5 (in English)
6 (in English)
7 (in English)
8 (in English)



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