Where’s the beef?

pigThis has got to stop.

The city of Randers, Denmark’s 7th largest city made headlines this week with their ridiculous decision to force kindergartens to include pork on their menus.

Not all publicity is good publicity, and this is just the latest in a stream of anti-immigrant news coming out of Denmark, potentially destroying the strong brand value of our country.

Who on earth wants their politicians to mandate what you should eat? Even less so, what your kids should eat? I don’t eat pork, and I sure as hell don’t want politicians telling me what I should eat.

Some things are best left untouched; it is incomprehensible that Venstre, branding themselves as Denmark’s Liberal Party, would vote for such micromanagement. There is nothing liberal in this; it is pettiness and apparatchikism of the worst kind.

In the age of single issue politics, social media, and shitstorms, politicians on all levels seem more concerned with scoring points in the endless public debate than fixing real problems.

It is thus even more sad is that the city of Randers apparently has quite a poor reputation of neglect in its childcare services, notwithstanding its reputation as one of Denmark’s most violent cities.

Perhaps this is a portent for the end of local democracy. The scenario is all too common: Give people power, and suddenly they believe it is their mandate to meddle in anything that comes to their attention.

City councils are not elected as dictators; we might be better off with a real dictator if he had the right skills. Or in this case, either limit their powers by law, or abolish self-governance altogether, replacing it with bureaucratic or professional rule.

Drinking Culture

In the news today, the WHO is saying that Denmark has a drinking problem. Despite improvements in the extent of youth drinking due to legal age restraints, it is simply not enough. They are recommending higher taxes on alcohol and harsher restrictions, and formulating a national alcohol strategy. I think they have a valid point.

Our new government is quietly listening. The socialists have promised higher taxes on other unhealthy products, and coalition partner Radikale have higher alcohol taxes as part of their political program. It will be interesting to see if they come through and actually succeed in changing behaviour.

I am not a teetotaller.

While red wine may have some health benefits, alcohol in general is definitely not good for you. Neither is pastry. My relationship to cake, chocolate, candy, etc. is probably worse than my relationship to alcohol.

Where alcohol differs from these is in its societal impact. Yes, having a few drinks can lighten up a party, but there is also the risk of driving people into addiction, violence, and more. This is not always the case, of course, and it is not a good reason for banning alcohol completely, but it does call for advocating a certain measure of moderation.

Basically, drink responsibly. And promote a culture where having a drink is fine, but not necessarily an integral part of every social occasion. People can have plenty of fun and still be able to drive home. A glass of wine is great, but not something you need every day – just like dessert. Getting moderately drunk once in a while can be a way of letting go of yourself, but if it happens every week you may want to reconsider your priorities.

As such, I am all for restricting access to alcohol for minors, and I believe higher taxes to curb destructive behaviour is in order. Especially since our society applies the same logic to other unhealthy consumer items, such as tobacco and sweets. But rules and regulations can only be one pillar in driving a change; the other is impacting public opinion and popular culture in a more responsible direction.

The Randomness of Adventist Cuisine

How Midwestern agriculture conquered the world

Recently, I spent some time in Michigan – my childhood home, my parents’ home, and, not incidentally, the birthplace of Seventh-day Adventism. And somewhere (it may well have been Wikipedia) I came across a random fact about the state. “Leading crops include corn, soybeans, flowers, wheat, sugar beets and potatoes.” Not surprising, remembering the corn fields we used to play in as kids. Not really interesting, either, unless you’re a farmer or commodities trader.

But wait. Look what’s first on the list. Corn and soybeans? And then consider the history of Adventists. As you know, health and diet were (and are) a big part of the church’s mission. A calling for healthy eating, vegetarianism, and abstinence features prominently in the identity of traditional Adventists. The most famous product is, of course, corn flakes, invented by Adventist John Harvey Kellogg, and subsequently the whole breakfast cereal genre. Why use corn in a breakfast cereal? Because it was locally grown, and abundant. The same goes for the humble soybean which was an essential source of protein for vegetarians trying to come out in a meat-dominated society. Being cheap, efficient, and a major Michigan crop, soy became the ingredient of choice in the many meat substitutes produced by Adventist-owned food companies. Wheat also features prominently on the Michigan high-score list, and interestingly enough, gluten has also been a staple of the Adventist diet.

Now a lot of Adventism’s lifestyle advice is actually pretty sound. And multiple studies in the U.S. and elsewhere (including Scandinavia) show that adhering to some of all of the advice enhances your lifespan significantly. This is worth noting, and remembering.

But I find it interesting that the agriculture of Michigan should come to have such a big influence on the world. After all, the advice is to eat less meat, not necessarily eat more corn and soy. Still, as Adventism spread to the rest of the U.S. and abroad, it promoted not just the lifestyle advice, but also the specific remedies (meat substitutes) to go with it. So as Adventists in Denmark, we faithfully produced and consumed a wide array of soy products, even though soy wasn’t very abundant in these latitudes. Localization never played a big part, so essentially Adventist diet became Adventist cuisine (thus the title of this post). Certain staple ingredients and recipes epitomized Adventists’ dietary identity, regardless of their commitment to health issues in general.

How would it have looked if Adventism arose not in Michigan, but in Louisiana, or Russia, or Thailand? The focus on health might have been the same, but we definitely would have eaten very different things. Fortunately, as vegetarianism gains a stronger foothold in many places, so does the will and the means to diversify. We may still eat our soy sausages, courtesy of the MDA, but hopefully their importance will diminish as we discover local and/or more authentic alternatives.

Those Poor Pumpkins


Today is Halloween, and Denmark has really warmed to this import holiday, with a lot of help from retailers. It’s not uncommon to se kids dressed up, scary-theme parties, store offers, decorations, and – especially – pumpkins.

Don’t get me wrong, the orange colour is really pretty, and it brightens up an otherwise potentially dreary autumn. And it’s probably fun for kids to carve jack-o-lanterns and light them tonight. But most people seem to be missing an all-important point: pumpkins are food! And delicious food. What a waste not to use them for cooking.

There is, of course, the famous American pumpkin pie, appearing at Thanksgiving four weeks from now. But as an ingredient in savoury cooking, it were the Australians who really tought us to appreciate it. So now, the freezer is ready for making pie, as well as soup. And over the last couple of weeks we’ve had them roasted, as a side dish, in a very yummy pizza with chevre, and in risotto.

Alas, the season is short. Most Danish pumpkins are grown on the island of Samsø, and while production is up, I’d love to see the vegetable rising in status on the dinner table in Denmark. It certainly deserves it.

Clean Table

I like food. I like variety. But I was brought up as a Seventh-day Adventist, which means the two aren’t always easy to combine. We don’t eat pork, shrimp, shellfish, intestines, etc. And a lot of us, including my family, are vegetarians. It’s not impossible to find and cook delicious and nourishing food, but it would still be much easier if we could just eat anything from the supermarket. I do eat meat now, but still not everything.

Earlier today I was in Netto, and noticed another customer shopping for his lunch: a loaf of rye bread, a cucumber, and three types of meat, two of these including pork. Too easy. Now I am aware that Netto’s product line is hardly inspiring, but it would help if I could sample all of their offerings, and not just the small portion that isn’t from “unclean” meats.

The same goes for travelling. It’s heaps easier to dine out when you can order meat, but still there are regional differences in the availability of clean meats. In Denmark you’ll probably find that around half of a restaurant menu features unsuitable stuff; in England it’d probably be less. Bangkok is manageable (chicken is always available) and even delicious if you’re lucky, but nowhere near the variety and attractiveness of Chiang Mai. A large Muslim population would usually be a boon.

But back to Netto – what if all of the different foods in the store were valid candidates for my consumption? If a Mosaic approach to eating had influenced a whole cuisine (Israel, anyone?), instead of the traditional Adventist meat rip-off products? If you could wipe the slate clean and come up with a new way of eating, unbound by tradition?

Or, on the other hand, what if I just cleaned my own table and started from the top. Stopped caring about clean and unclean and just enjoyed whatever nature (and Netto) had to offer. I probably can’t do it though – too much tradition.