What would it take to become one of the greatest food regions in the world?
– Claus Meyer
Change can take place in a variety of ways. It can come from many angles – top down, bottom up or numerous levels in between.
So then, how do you get a group of countries to collectively change the fundamental way they look at food? You gather their leading chefs to write the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto that becomes a stepping stone to a more local, sustainable approach to food.
In the 1980s and 1990s, food production and consumption in Denmark and other Nordic countries centered on mass production of items such as dairy and meat, and much of the food diversity was slowly whittled away. Both the producers and the consumers of this food had lost their connection to where it came from. Meanwhile, food critics described Nordic cuisine as, well…rather unremarkable.
However, a movement in the early 2000s began to change all of this. Spearheaded by Danish chef Claus Meyer, New Nordic Cuisine was born. The crux of this revolution was the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto – first drafted by Meyer and then refined in 2004 by 12 leading chefs from Denmark, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The essence of the manifesto was to concentrate on using local, sustainable ingredients that reflected the seasons and landscape of the area. In a recent interview, Meyer describes what he wanted the manifesto to convey.
We tried, as you can read from the document, to say what had to be said in a more subtle, inclusive and engaging way that would not push away, but bring people together.
The process of developing and signing the manifesto was meant as a way to inspire these chefs into taking responsibility by implementing the objectives of this document into the dishes that they created. The result was that the manifesto turned chefs from people who cooked great food, to people who became role models for society – and with that came responsibility.
But the manifesto was just one piece of a larger plan holistic plan to influence the direction of Nordic cuisine. A year or two before introducing the manifesto, Meyer and chef Rene Redzepi co-founded what would eventually become one of the world’s most renowned restaurants – Noma.
In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture, hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.
– Noma’s welcome page
In the heart of Copenhagen, Noma focuses on innovative dishes that combine locally harvested and foraged ingredients. The success of this restaurant paved the way for the introduction of the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto by bringing the heart of what the manifesto was trying to say to the people of Denmark. But Meyer didn’t stop there. Shortly after releasing the manifesto, he organized a symposium to which he invited a range of key stakeholders whose support would be needed to push the agenda forward: politicians, scientists, farmers, food industrialists, researchers, teachers, retailers and chefs. The focus of the symposium was not on ‘buying local’ or ‘sustainability’ or ‘animal welfare’, but rather discussions were framed around two main themes: 1) what would it take to become one of the greatest food regions in the world? and 2) what would be the benefits down the road? The symposium acted as a catalyst for change amongst these key stakeholders and inspired them to take the words of the manifesto into reality.
This shift did not happen overnight. Over the past decade there has been a gradual shift in the mindset of the Nordic countries. It has led to the rebirth of the microbrewery and the local cheese maker. The Nordic people – and the Danish in particular – have embraced this movement in a variety of ways, including taking the principles of the manifesto and applying them to other areas such as furniture design. In 2013, a second manifesto was created – this one focusing on children and food in the Nordic region.
The success of this initiative lies primarily in getting the right change agents on board and inspiring them to act as role models for change. If the manifesto hadn’t been embraced by these change agents, the effect would have been much smaller. If the tone of the manifesto had been too prescriptive or too narrow, it would have been met with much more resistance. The message of the manifesto was framed in a way that was difficult to dispute and provides an excellent example of how a quiet revolution can become the new normal.
Photo Credit: Deena Prichep for NPR
How to be Danish by Patrick Kingsley (2012, Short books).