Mealtimes at home have always been moments to debate with my family whether we should be eating traditionally or if our food should be more creative. Reports say that by 2050, we’ll need to feed two billion more people. When I think about that figure, the question of diet takes on a new meaning. How much food do we need to produce then and, more importantly, what will the future of food be? Would it be guilt-free (taking into account that today almost every nation is getting fatter and obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes are soaring)? Will we be less dependent on meat? Or would food be more creative (think algae in oil and butter, cricket flour in energy bars and chips, or even veggie burgers).
Danish food writer and chef Trine Hahnemann, who will be speaking at the Emirates Airline Festivl of Literature next month, has put some of my worries to rest. She tells me the future of food will be simpler than we think.
Trine is an enthusiastic advocate of sustainable solutions, organic sourcing and food cooked with love. Coming from Denmark, she believes in the philosophy of hygge, which offers a far healthier and saner approach to life. Trine’s food company Hahnemanns Køkken provides 3,000 daily lunches in private and public companies in the Copenhagen area. She also works with young Syrian refugees to spread the joy of Syrian food in her country, and has co-authored a book about Syrian culture and food. Her books The Scandinavian Cookbook, Scandinavian Comfort Food and Copenhagen Food: Culture, Tradition and Recipes talk about the joys of simple local food that endures for generations.
We asked Trine 10 questions.
1. You have spoken and written a lot about sustainable solutions and food cooked with love. How key is it now to be mindful of what we are eating?
It has never been more important to find sustainable solutions; climate change shows us we need to act rapidly if we want to work for a planet where everybody can have a good life. So, a vegetable diet with very little meat and dairy is the future if we want to survive together on this planet. I am an ardent supporter of organic because I want to eat clean produce with no pesticides. Conventional farming is a real threat to the bees, as they are dying in large numbers. The fact that bees can’t survive with our farming practices really says it all for me.
2. How fast are food patterns changing and do you see a conscious effort among people to be eating more sustainably and supporting local food chains?
Yes, I see a huge interest, but I do not think we are changing fast enough. We need both private and public programmes to educate people and help them make the right choices.
3. Irrespective of where we live, what are the little changes we can introduce in our daily meals to make them more sustainable?
Eat significantly less meat, especially beef and lamb. Eat according to the season, and choose as much local produce as possible. Eat more grains than rice. A rule of thumb is to eat an 80/20 diet, meaning 80 per cent should be plant based and only 20 per cent should come from animals.
4. Your company, Hahnemanns Køkken in Copenhagen, focuses on providing good and sustainable lunches. How would you define a sustainable lunch and what would you provide in that lunch box?
It is all about serving as many vegetables as possible, wholegrain bread, and thinking about portion size. Reducing meat and dairy, but foremost making sure that the salads and vegetable dishes are tasty, delicious and tempting, so people are satisfied. Then they don’t miss a protein-heavy diet. The menu consists of mixed salads with seasonal vegetables, some veggie patties, rye bread and some pumpkin dip.
5. You have co-authored a book on Syrian culture and food, and you also work with young Syrians in Denmark. Tell us a bit about this experience.
I believe that food is a driver for change and cultural exchange. Around the world people eat to survive, for pleasure, and to celebrate their culture. Syrian food is so tasty and delicious, and the food tells people stories. In the kitchen, there are no boundaries.
I got to know a group of young men, their stories about and around food, and their hopes for the future. We shared their culture and their food. We cooked together for different events and highlighted that refugees come with resources and skills, and we all have a responsibility to help each other.
6. When we talk about sustainability, food packaging is also important?
I think we need much more research in this field. There are a lot of exciting initiatives, but we are not there yet. I think right now we need to be mindful of using glass or other alternatives, using plastic bags again and again, and being responsible in how you dispose them.
Plastic is an amazing thing, because it is easy to use, it is flexible and it is cheap, so finding something to replace it is going to be hard. The fact that it is hard doesn’t mean we don’t need to do it. While we wait for something to replace plastic on a large scale, we need to show restraint in using it and find other ways. It might not be perfect, but sustainability is a moving target. My favourite new thing is bees wax [paper] for wrapping bread and sandwiches.
7. What would be the food of the future?
Seasonality, local and a less-is-more approach, will be the future. Vegetables and grains as well! I believe in seasonality; cut down on protein and eat delicious vegetables and grains. Insects only where it is already part of the tradition. I think industry will find a way to enhance the use of protein.
8. What is your opinion on lab-brewed poultry, beef, and even foie gras?
I do not see that as the solution. Why are we so afraid to give up meat? Generations of people before us on this planet had meat only for special occasions. Just my grandparent’s generation did not eat meat every day. We had days with porridge, leftovers and vegetables dishes. I think we need to put things into perspective and ask the right questions. There are thousands of plants, fruits and vegetables that can be consumed. Let’s start there.
9. What do you eat when you are happy? And upset?
When I am happy, I love cooking. I love to have people around me, and sitting down to share a meal. Veggies cooked in different ways, salads, bread and cheese.
When I am under pressure, I love to have soup, or veg curry with rice. If I’m sad, I bake a cake. When I miss my children (they are grownups now), I bake pancakes and hope they feel my love wherever they are.
10. How does food in your culture play an important role in hygge?
We always offer food and drinks when people visit. We will offer coffee even before we say a proper ‘hello’. We enjoy having people over for dinner and have them linger at the table over food and sweets for hours. Setting the table, lighting candles and making an effort to make your guest feel at home. Then making sure it is relaxed and informal, that is hygge.