How did today’s lunch travel to your plate?
We have one planet earth …. The areas of the planet surface do not grow. The world population grows – and so does currently the expectations on life.
When we eat food – (which we soon will) – there are real pieces of this earth that are dedicated to growing it.
Most of the earth surface is ocean and only 10% of the land area is arable land – where most of the raw material for our food is grown – something lite 90-95% of it. Often also sea-food since farmed fish is fed with crops.
10% = 1,4 billion hectares. We are now 7,8 billion people. That makes a fair share of 1800 square meters each.
Please imagine 1800 square meters. One person. Then imagine Stockholm region 2 370 000 persons times 1800 sqm. Then an average Swedish food habit that requires 3400 sqm – all over the globe…
BERAS Interntional Foundation – which is where I work – is dedicated to transforming the global food system to sustainable. The global food system we have today is not sustainable. It contributes to Climate change, loss of biodiversity, eutrophication and other big problems. Actually – counting all the transports, packaging, change of land use and the infrastructure needed to keep this all going – food is half of the Climate gas emissions!
That is the bad news. The good news is that we can transform the food system to regenerative. Reverse the losses and build soil. We can all become a part in that transformation. All of us who eat food and have a decision power somewhere in the food system are invited to take responsibility with three key concepts: Ecological Regenerative Agriculture and production, Diet for a Green Planet and Biodistricts.
One way of expressing what Diet for a Green Planet means is that we want to send our warmest love all the way from the food we eat to all the concrete areas in the world that are dedicated to produce what we eat – that serve us.
We want all those areas -our own 1800 sqm arable land – to be part of healing the earth with truly regenerative methods. We call it ERA. Theoretically we can live well with just 1800 sqm ERA. We can live well with much less than that also! The most important point here is that most of that area should be dedicated to regeneration of the earth itself.
In our climate zone here in Sweden that means that we have 2, 3 or 4 year ley in the crop rotation. Ley is simply a mixture of different species of clover, grass and herbs that grows and produces hey, silage or grazing. It is harvested – but since the roots remain living it will continue to grow as soon as the rain comes. It will take in carbon dioxide from the air. Even nitrogen from the air. And it will build a fertile soil. The harvest will be given to ruminant animals so that the nutrients in it can be recycled through the manure.
There will be production of milk and meat based on this fodder. But that is just a by-product. The clover in the mixture will take nitrogen directly from the endless source in the air and when the crop rotation is well balanced the mycorrhiza in the soil will release phosphorus and other minerals directly from the rock.
Artificial fertiliser is not necessary in this system. Instead the system requires lots of very concrete love from a farmer or gardener who lives with his or her land. Organic intensification does not come by itself. It requires a loving farmer who knows how to talk with her land. Who cares about every little piece of it – and its animals. What is the matter with this little spot? What can I do to make it thrive?
We can live well with 1800 sqm regeneratively grown. We can live with less than that. This is proved by the simple fact that many of us occupy much larger areas. A Swede with a typically Swedish diet will use 3400 sqm. Already here it is obvious that someone else will use less.
DGP is a methodology that helps us to go towards this ideal of using just our own 1800 sqm share and that we take responsibility for that area being regeneratively grown.
DGP has 5 criteria. They should be seen as one whole. Zoom out – check where we are – zoom in and focus on a goal that is realistic for the specific situation. Go for it. Zoom out – find a new strategy.
Talking with our daily food in this way. Inspiring our networks. The method was developed in practice by Södertälje Municipality and made to a success story there that is spreading to other municipalities in Sweden, to SME´s, to private persons – and even to other countries.
Criteria 1: Tasty and healthy – here the skill of cooks and chefs is key. Remember also that good company, nice and calm atmosphere and knowing the food is brought here from a sustainable source contributes to the taste. Some stuffs are more tricky than others to make tasty. That is the chefs skill!
Criteria 2: Organic as much as possible – and where possible go beyond the minimum criteria of organic agriculture – but also find way to help those who are not yet organic to take steps in the direction.
This is a challenge in a tight budget situation. It is made possible by minimising waste, being better at local in season, keeping use of meat to a low level and working directly with raw materials instead of processed.
Criteria 3: Local in season. For several reasons – but especially – it is so much easier to concretely love an earth surface that is close to home – than when the product has travelled across the globe and passed through an unknown number of hands.
In Sweden ”local in season” is very difficult in large scale, because we lost that infrastructure a long time ago. The best way to promote local in season today in Sweden in a larger scale is to go for certified organic! Non organic farming is more dependant on other imported resources – fodder, fertiliser…
Criteria 4: More vegetables, legumes and whole grains – and take good care what meat and fish product you use. There is a natural limit to how much is sustainable.
Whole grains have more of minerals and vitamins than polished. It helps us getting the nutrients we need with less meat. The same with legumes and diverse vegetables. Try new things!
Criteria 5: Less waste. Obvious reason. In the west we through away about a third of all food produced! It is a shame!
We have done our best to provide a meal according to DGP at this lunch and dinner.
It is a challenge! Sweden is only 50% self sufficient with food and our food chains are highly globalised. Looking at the agriculture in Sweden – it is highly dependant on imports of fodder, artificial fertiliser, electric energy and fossil fuels. The consequences of the war in Ukraine has exposed how vulnerable we are.
One consequence is that we could not predict the menu in advance – because any food could be out of stock. I had only half a day to research.
The second consequence is that local food in season for 150 portions was not possible to find. End of May is tricky season in middle Sweden. There are edible wild herbs to pick. But not for catering 150 hotel guests. The few farmers, gardeners and wild produce pickers that produce such things quickly sell everything out now that Swedish people are beginning to open their eyes to local food in season. It will take years of new policy and other support to help some start-ups to get going and producing.
What we can do and have done is to choose certified organic and MSC certified products.
The main course is Sej (Seithe, Pollachius virens), MSC, catching area A47 = South Atlantic – the sea west and south from South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Congo.
The total world production of fish is 96,4 Million tons =12,3 kg/person and year or 230 g per week This is clearly too much since the global fishing is threatening the reproduction as it already is. That take out level is not sustainable. How much is sustainable? I do not know.
So the 150 g portion we get today is not so far from our fish share for this week. Sorry about that.
In addition we have potatoes, apple and fennel in the dish. The potatoes are from Gotland – which is as local as you can expect in Stockholm considering 1800 sqm and 2 Million inhabitants in the region – and were harvested last autumn. This is positive. If we would have had potatoes from this season it would have been problematic.
We tried to get rhubarb, which is a typical crop in season here, but the only rhubarb on the market just now is non organic and import! There has not been a market for Swedish organic rhubarb – so now that it is asked for – there simply is none to buy! I cannot ask the chef to go our in private gardens and collect for 150 hotel guests.
In the evening we have fillet of beef. Swedish and organic certified. It is mainly fed with rough fodder from ley and natural grasslands. In Sweden we need these animals to care for biodiversity of grasslands and ley is grown for the sake of the soil. You should see the beef as a by-product of caring for the soil and the land! Grain fed cattle in feedlots or cattle raised in grasslands from cleared rain forrest in Brazil is something completely different. Organic beef we can eat with a good conscience. It costs something – and we help the farmer continue.
200 g fillet of beef to 150 guests and getting 170 kg beef from an 18 month ox means that 10 oxen are needed for this evenings meal. But then the fillet is only one detail. Looking at all the details this ox has fed 850 people with 200 g each.
Looking at the nutrients – todays lunch 150 g fish + 60 g potatoes + 20 g fennel + 30 g apples gives around 50% of our needed daily intake of protein – and only 10% of the recommended intake of energy. This is a bit more protein than we need in relation to energy.
My recommendation for the future is to make the portions of fish and beef half the size and serve more potatoes and maybe complement with for example carrots, beetroots, onions and brown bread to satisfy the appetites.
Of course, since some guests will expect these excessively big portions, there will be a need of previous information and motivation to avoid protests.
The evening meal is a treat. We can afford that once in a while.
BERAS International Foundation
Hans von Essen, Senior Advisor