There’s No Such Thing as ‘Bad Food.’ Four Terms that Make Dietitians Cringe.

Ellie Krieger wrote . . . . . . . . .

The words we use matter. Our choice of language not only mirrors our current way of thinking, it also has the power to shape our attitudes and behaviours over time. That’s why so many food and nutrition professionals cringe at much of the conversation around food and health today.

Seemingly innocuous words and phrases that are regularly tossed around set us up for unhealthy approaches to food.

I emailed several registered dietitian colleagues to identify the most common offenders – words they wish would be eliminated from the nutrition chatter – and asked them how to reframe that language for a healthier perspective. Here are their top four.

Good/bad food

Not surprisingly, almost every dietitian I surveyed ranked the categorisation of food as “good” or “bad” high on their cringe list. It is the root of unhealthy food speak, as most of the other reviled terms can be traced back to this notion.

Pinning a black or white value to one particular food shifts focus from the big picture, the overall eating patterns that really define a person’s well-being.

Sure, some foods have a better nutritional profile than others, but context matters immensely. Broccoli may easily win a “good” label, but if all you have eaten all day is broccoli, another serving of it may be the last thing you need.

On the flip side, even foods with a less than ideal nutritional breakdown can have unquantifiable health benefits.

Take pizza for example. “Pizza is often demonised as ‘bad’ because it is high in fat, high in refined carbohydrates and easy to overindulge,” says Chris Mohr, co-founder of the nutrition consultation company Mohr Results.

“But if that pizza isn’t an every day occurrence and it brought friends together, encouraged conversation, laughing and a connection, the otherwise ‘bad’ food becomes nurturing for your soul. Food inherently is not good or bad.”

Besides setting you up to overeat broccoli and miss out on pizza parties, the good/bad paradigm can lead to extreme, moralistically judgmental attitudes about food.

As Deanna Wolfe, co-founder of HealthyBody Nutrition puts it, “People use ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to describe food as if you are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for eating them.

“This only leads to guilt and stress over eating! You are not good for eating kale and bad for eating ice cream.”

Also, labelling foods “bad” can make them even more desirable, as Rahaf Al Bochi, owner of Olive Tree Nutrition and spokeswoman for the Georgia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has found.

When her clients declare certain foods “forbidden,” they are more likely to be preoccupied with thoughts of those foods and crave them more intensely.

Clean eating

The notion of clean eating is an offshoot of the good/bad food concept that marketers seem to adore, to the dismay of many dietitians.

“The original [clean eating] philosophy appears to be one I think we could all get on board with: eating food as close to its original state as possible, in the most nutritious form possible (also known as minimally processed),” says Jaclyn London, author of Dressing on the Side and nutrition director of Good Housekeeping.

“But what was once a sense of awareness about food seems to have spiralled into a diet culture driven system. On social media, it’s become yet another form of body and food shaming.No matter what, the alternative to ‘clean’ sounds like fear mongering.”

Elizabeth Ward recoils at the term, too, which she wrote about in her food and nutrition blog Better Is the New Perfect: “I can’t get past the notion that if you’re not eating ‘clean’, then you’re eating ‘dirty’.”

Declaring foods clean or dirty is not merely a simplistic misrepresentation, as with calling foods good or bad, it could ultimately be downright unhealthy, fostering overly restrictive eating (and the bingeing that often follows) and unwarranted self judgment around food.

Guilty pleasure

I bet you have been there: you declare you are going to “be good” or “eat clean” and you beat yourself up at the slightest deviation from what you’ve decided (or a book has told you) is the perfect diet. No wonder the term “guilty pleasure” makes dietitians wince.

“Eating is not cheating, and guilt should have no role in food choice,” says Ward. “Your diet does not need to be perfect.

“Guilt robs you of the pleasure of eating and makes you feel bad after, which can start a downward spiral of shame that prevents you from learning to make better eating choices while allowing for treats.

“As a dieter in my teens and early 20s, I battled guilt and shame, and I found it to be extremely unproductive.”

I experienced this, too, in my younger years, and what pulled me out of that negative thought trap is to mindfully, non-judgmentally extract pleasure from whatever I choose to eat, whether it is a carrot or a piece of chocolate cake.

Low-carb/cutting carbs

We dietitians get it: people are generally better off eating fewer foods made of refined flour and sugar. If I may speak for the group, we applaud and support efforts in that direction. But somewhere along the way, “carb” has become synonymous with unhealthy.

That is a big problem because many of the most healthful foods in the world are rich in carbohydrates.

“I’m asked if fruit is bad because it’s a ‘carb’ at least once per week,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, owner of MNC Nutrition and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“The fact that people, who are trying to do right by their heath, actually question if fruit is bad for them is a window into how distorted our society’s view of food is.”

Wendy Lopez, co-founder of the online platform Food Heaven Made Easy, cringes when she hears people say carbs are bad for you.

“People think they’re eating healthier by cutting down on carbohydrates,” she said. “However, carbohydrates are in so many nutritious and tasty foods. Aside from bread, pasta and grains, carbs can also be found in nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes and more! Carbohydrates provide our bodies with fuel, nutrition, and satisfaction.”

Eating carbohydrates shouldn’t be the all-or-nothing proposition it has been made out to be. Enjoy them in balance, focusing on the healthiest, least processed choices.

The bottom line is that much of the language around food and nutrition that is batted around today traps us into a reductionist, all-or-nothing way of thinking that prevents us from achieving true well-being.

So next time you catch yourself or others using the words here, take a moment to pull back far enough to see the bigger, more nuanced picture and reconsider.

Source: SCMP


Opinion: Why Ditching Processed Foods Won’t Be Easy — Barriers To Cooking From Scratch

Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott and Joslyn Brenton wrote . . . . . . . . .

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” Michael Pollan, one of America’s most influential food writers, famously advised more than a decade ago. This pithy advice is perhaps the clearest distillation of a food philosophy that is so intuitive that it has become ubiquitous. To fix the problems in the food system, we need to consume whole, fresh foods grown on a farm rather than the engineered pseudofoods that populate the interior aisles of supermarkets.

A recent study now offers hard scientific evidence in support of Pollan’s message. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health conducted a randomized, controlled trial, the first to directly assess the effects of processed food on people’s health as compared with whole foods. Participants were randomly assigned a diet for a two-week period. One group was given a diet composed of ultra-processed food, while the other group ate unprocessed or minimally processed food. When the two-week period ended, the groups switched to the opposite diet. When people were on the ultra-processed diet, they ate an average of 508 calories more per day and gained an average of 2 pounds over the two-week period, providing evidence that there may be something about processed food that drives people to overeat and gain weight.

The study confirms what we’ve been hearing for years: Cooking from scratch and eating “real food” is better and healthier. The problem is that knowing this doesn’t make it any more doable for the average family.

Families in the United States spend quite a bit of time cooking, with many cooking almost every day. The most recent surveys suggest that Americans are actually cooking slightly more than they were a decade ago. But a large proportion of our diets — almost 60% of total calories — comes from ultra-processed foods. People living in poor households consume more processed foods than wealthier people, but the amount of processed foods that Americans eat is increasing overall.

Between 2012 and 2017, we conducted interviews and ethnographic observations with more than 150 mothers and grandmothers of young children from all walks of life. All were working hard to feed their families, often under very difficult circumstances. Their stories are a stark illustration of where Pollan’s advice, seemingly simple, falls short. While many people frame food decisions as a relatively simple matter of personal choice, our new book, Pressure Cooker, shows what it really takes to put a home-cooked meal on the table.

First, it takes money. Healthier diets — diets rich in fresh produce and lean proteins — generally cost more. The researchers who conducted the processed-food study recognize this: They note that the unprocessed diet they fed participants cost 40% more than the ultra-processed diet. And lots of American families don’t have more money to spend on food. Many of the families in our study were experiencing food insecurity, meaning that they lacked food to feed everyone in their household. Across the United States, one out of every eight people does not have enough food to eat, and many more do not have enough money to regularly afford healthy foods.

Lots of families in our study cooked almost every night, in part because it was the cheapest option. But when their cupboards ran bare, they ate ramen and hot dogs, not a pan of roast chicken and vegetables, as food gurus recommend. Mothers said that if they had more money, they’d buy fresh fruit for their kids, but this was just an occasional splurge, not an everyday reality. Even the more financially stable middle-class mothers in our study talked about making trade-offs between the foods they wanted to buy for their families and the foods they felt they could afford.

Cooking from scratch takes time. The photos of the unprocessed meals in the study represent hours of labor: the labor of shopping (often at multiple stores), researching recipes, chopping vegetables and prepping ingredients, and, of course, cooking. Researchers find that it takes extra time to cook the way that food reformers advise. Not surprisingly, it is usually women who take on this additional labor. And although women today spend less time in the kitchen than women did in the 1960s, they actually have less leisure time, as expectations around work and parenting have ramped up.

As real wages have stagnated, households often depend on every adult family member working, sometimes in multiple jobs, to make ends meet. And nonstandard employment arrangements, with unpredictable scheduling, are increasingly common, especially for low-wage workers. It’s hard to plan meals when you don’t even know who will be home for dinner. The middle-class families in our study had more resources and more options but felt completely overwhelmed by hectic schedules and competing demands that left little time to cook.

Finally, cooking from scratch requires resources that food experts take for granted. At a minimum, it requires a working stove and enough money to pay the electric bill to run the stove. One family in our book experienced homelessness during the time we spent with the family. Patricia Washington, her daughter and her two grandchildren moved into a hotel room after being evicted when they couldn’t keep up with both the rent and the heating bill. Dinners consisted of frozen pizzas or TV dinners heated in the microwave. Although most of the families in our study had a relatively stable place to live, many lacked basic kitchen tools like sharp knives or cutting boards, which made chopping vegetables both tedious and dangerous. Like Washington, some didn’t have a kitchen table or enough chairs for everyone in the family.

The idea that we have a responsibility to prepare wholesome, nourishing meals is appealing, and now there is more evidence to support that. For some food gurus, the decision to simmer homemade spaghetti and meatballs on the stove rather than heat up a can of ravioli in the microwave is evidence of a person’s moral fortitude.

But inequality is baked into our food system. If good health depends on eating real food, it’s time to make sure all families get the support they need to eat well. This means making healthy food more affordable, but it also means addressing the other challenges families face: for example, by guaranteeing workers a living wage and fair working conditions and by investing in families through universal free school lunch and subsidized child care, so that parents don’t feel like they’re doing it all on their own.

Source: npr

Opinion: Canada Diverges from U.S. on Sugar Substitutes in New Food Guide

Christy Brissette wrote . . . . . . . . .

As a Canadian dietitian who works and lives in the United States, I like to keep up with health policy in both countries. So, I was quite interested to see Health Canada, the governmental agency responsible for public health, is charting a new course when it comes to dietary advice, particularly in the area of sugar substitutes. It’s a track that sharply diverges from the U.S.

In a significant departure from the past as well as from the U.S. approach, Canada’s new food and dietary guidelines, released this year, say zerocalorie or low-calorie sugar substitutes are not necessary or helpful. “Sugar substitutes do not need to be consumed to reduce the intake of free sugars,” the guidelines say, adding that because “there are no well-established health benefits associated with the intake of sweeteners, nutritious foods and beverages that are unsweetened should be promoted instead.”

In contrast, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), issued by the U.S. Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments, suggest sugar substitutes may have a place in helping people consume fewer calories, at least in the short term, though “questions remain about their effectiveness as a long-term weight-management strategy.” The guidelines neither encourage nor discourage usage.

The differences may seem subtle, but dietary guidelines in each country are used to shape what is served at public institutions such as schools and are what many health-care professionals base their recommendations on. Language matters. But before we try to explain the difference in advice, let’s have a quick primer on sugar substitutes.

Sugar substitutes include many categories, such as high-intensity sweeteners at least 100 times as sweet as sugar. They can be “artificial,” such as aspartame and saccharin, or “natural,” such as stevia and monk fruit. They can contain a negligible number of calories or be classified as low-calorie sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols.

In much of the research and in most policy documents, sugar substitutes are often discussed as a single category rather than a heterogenous group of compounds. This makes it challenging to know whether certain types are preferable.

Most concern seems to focus on artificial sweeteners. Six are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as ingredients in foods and drinks and as table sweeteners people can add themselves. You’ll find artificial sweeteners in a range of foods and drinks, including light yogurt, diet sodas, protein bars and chewing gum, as well as baked goods and frozen desserts. Carbonated drinks are the top source of artificial sweeteners in the American diet.

Research suggests stevia and monk fruit, the natural sugar substitutes, are safe for human consumption, though it’s not clear they lead to weight loss. There has been conflicting research, however, about the safety of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested artificial sweeteners could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and cancer, and may have a negative influence on the microbiome and mental health.

For example, research based on data from 37,716 men from the Health Professional’s Follow-up study and 80,647 women from the Nurses’ Health study published in Circulation last month found consuming artificially sweetened beverages is associated with a greater risk of death as well as death from heart disease. The risk was found specifically for women consuming four or more servings of artificially sweetened beverages a day. The authors say this finding needs to be confirmed by future research, but it does raise questions about whether artificial sweeteners are necessary — or should be recommended at all. As for the U.S. contention sugar substitutes might help people cut back on calories and sugar to improve their health or lose weight — that seems doubtful. A review by the non-profit research foundation Cochrane, conducted for the World Health Organization, examined 56 studies into the effects

of sugar substitutes on health. It found there is no evidence sugar substitutes provide any benefit — and may even have some risks. An analysis of U.S. dietary intake from 2003 to 2004 shows people tend to add artificial sweeteners to their diets rather than replacing sugary foods and beverages with them.

The same seems to be true for children. This month, research published in the Pediatric Obesity journal revealed in U.S. children, drinking artificially sweetened beverages is associated with consuming more calories and sugar.

U.S. and Canadian health officials are looking at the same research and have populations with similar health issues. So, why the difference in guidelines regarding sugar substitutes?

The new Canadian approach seems to be if a food or beverage doesn’t have a demonstrated health benefit, it doesn’t belong. Their 2019 guidelines suggest people’s tastebuds will adapt to lesssweet tastes when they reduce their consumption of sweetened foods and beverages — and using high-intensity sweeteners delays that process.

This is a marked change from Canada’s last dietary guidelines, released in 2007, which advised the general population to consume sugar substitutes in moderation and to cut back on them if they noticed any digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating.

The new Canadian recommendations may seem tougher, but I see them as being clearer and something for people to aspire to. The U.S. view seems to be focused on encouraging health behaviours thought to be more achievable.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University and member of the 2015-2020 DGA committee, seems skeptical of an all-or-nothing approach to sugar substitutes. She expressed her stance in an editorial in Circulation, responding to the study that said consuming artificially sweetened beverages is associated with a greater risk of death. “To a certain extent, as a community, we can take the high road about beverage recommendations: drink water (or flavoured water) in place of (sugar-sweetened beverages). However, continuing this simple approach would be disingenuous because we know that it has not worked well in the past and there is little reason to expect that it will work well in the future.”

A 2018 advisory from the American Heart Association also takes a more middle-ground approach to sugar substitutes than Canada’s, stating they can play a role in helping people to reduce the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages they’re drinking. The advisory also says beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners could be especially useful for people who are used to sweetness and find water unappealing at first.

I found one hint the viewpoint in the United States might be changing. Last month, the American Diabetes Association released a nutrition consensus report that recommends water replace sugar-sweetened beverages. If sugar substitutes are used, the report says, people should receive nutrition counselling to help them avoid replacing the calories and carbohydrates with food.

The authors also note any proposed advantages to sugar substitutes haven’t been proven, and there could be potential adverse effects.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

Food as a Hormone

Enlarge image . . . . .

Karen K. Ryan and Randy J. Seeley wrote . . . . . . . . .

Diet has an enormous impact on many aspects of our health, yet scientific consensus about how what we eat affects our biology remains elusive. This is especially true with respect to the ongoing debate about obesity. While many in the scientific community focus on how high-fat diets can lead to increased body weight (1), others assert that we should blame processed carbohydrates (2). Is it possible that this focus on macronutrients (i.e., fats, proteins, and sugars) is misplaced?

Much of the recent public discourse about the interaction between food and metabolic health relies on two basic approaches (see above figure). One is nutritional epidemiology, in which populations of people who eat different foods are compared with regard to indices of health such as body weight, with a goal of determining which diets are more or less “healthy.” The other is biochemistry, in which the goal is to determine how different macronutrients are processed to yield energy. Despite valuable information provided by these two approaches, neither has resulted in a translatable scientific basis for recommending diets that improve metabolic health or reduce body weight for a large percentage of the affected population, perhaps because considering food only in terms of its macronutrient content overlooks the complexities of how food interacts with our bodies.

Nutritional epidemiology and biochemical approaches, focusing primarily on the relationship between macronutrient consumption and metabolic outcomes, have not provided a translatable scientific basis to recommend diets that improve metabolic health for a broad range of people. Alternatively, understanding our diets as a collection of signaling molecules, having hormone-like actions via cell-surface and nuclear receptor signaling, may provide new insights into the relationship between what we eat and metabolic disease. Moreover, this framework may eventually allow us to make dietary recommendations from the bottom up—based on the ability of specific foods to alter relevant signaling pathways.

A growing body of evidence suggests an alternative perspective. That is, circulating substrates derived from food have specific direct and indirect actions to activate receptors and signaling pathways, in addition to providing fuel and essential micronutrients. Ultimately food can be considered as a cocktail of “hormones.” A hormone is a regulatory compound produced in one organ that is transported in blood to stimulate or inhibit specific cells in another part of the body. Hormones exert their effects on target tissues by acting on cell-surface receptors to alter activity through intracellular signaling cascades or via nuclear receptors to regulate gene transcription. Although food is not produced in the body, its components travel through the blood, and nutrient substrates can act as signaling molecules by activating cell-surface or nuclear receptors.

As an example, nutritional epidemiology has touted the benefits of eating omega-3 fatty acids to protect against cardiometabolic syndrome and weight gain (3). Yet simple biochemistry cannot satisfactorily explain why omega-3 fatty acids should lead to benefits compared to other fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids bind to and activate the cell-surface receptor GPR120 (4), which is expressed in important metabolic tissues including adipose tissue and muscle. Reduced GPR120 signaling is associated with inflammation, weight gain, and impaired glucose control in both mice and humans (4, 5). Thus, to generate the full spectrum of beneficial effects on vascular disease risk, ingested omega-3 fatty acids are not simply processed to generate energy, but additionally act via GPR120 in key tissues to improve metabolic endpoints.

Whereas activating GPR120 appears to protect against weight gain, other lipid-activated receptors exert the opposite effect. Peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ (PPARγ), for example, is a nuclear receptor that is activated by a variety of fatty acids and regulates transcription of genes important for lipid and glucose metabolism. Increasing PPARγ activity with pharmacological agonists enhances lipid storage in adipose tissue, and also acts in the brain to cause hyperphagia, dual actions that promote accretion of body fat (6– 8). Consistent with this, reducing PPARγ activity in the brain decreases consumption of high-fat diets, thereby blunting weight gain (6, 8). These studies lay the groundwork for understanding how components of high-fat diets cause overconsumption and weight gain by activating specific fatty acid receptors in the brain.

In addition to acting directly on these specialized fatty acid receptors, there is evidence that some dietary fatty acids also modify the actions of classical hormones. For example, the stomach-derived hormone ghrelin increases food intake and weight gain by binding to its receptor, growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR). However, for ghrelin to signal effectively, a fatty acid must first be attached to the peptide as a side chain. Different fatty acid side chains derived from different dietary fats change the ability of ghrelin to increase food intake (9). These fatty acid side chains come from ingested food rather than from adipose tissue (10). In this way, specific dietary components can exert hormone-like metabolic effects by physical interaction with a peptide hormone.

Fatty acids are not the only direct source of “hormones” in our food; certain amino acids can also activate signaling pathways. The most-studied are the branched-chain amino acids including leucine, which activates the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. mTOR is a serine-threonine kinase that regulates cell-cycle progression, growth, and insulin action (11). Leucine directly activates the mTOR pathway in the central nervous system to reduce food intake and body weight (12, 13).

Food components also interact with gut flora to induce indirect signaling cascades within the body. For example, nondigestible complex carbohydrates, including dietary fiber, are metabolized by the gut microbiota and fermented to short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) end products—mainly acetate, propionate, and butyrate (14). These SCFAs bind to and activate cell-surface receptors free fatty acid receptor 2 (FFAR2) and FFAR3 to alter host metabolism. For example, FFAR2 and 3 are expressed on entero-endocrine L cells that produce the incretin hormone glucagon-like peptide–1 (GLP-1). Stimulation of L cells with SCFA induces GLP-1 secretion, but this effect is diminished in the absence of FFAR2 or, to a lesser extent, FFAR3 (15). Acetate and propionate also activate FFAR2 on adipocytes to increase expression of the weight-reducing hormone leptin. In this way, specific dietary carbohydrates, modified by the gut microbiota, can signal at specific receptors to alter whole-body energy and glucose metabolism.

Viewing food as a hormone could substantially influence how we make dietary recommendations to promote health or treat specific diseases. Rather than using only nutritional epidemiology to identify what healthy people consume, we may be able to design diets from the bottom up—based on their ability to alter signaling pathways in specific tissues that we know are linked to metabolic disease. In addition, this framework suggests that the argument over whether fat or sugar is to blame for the increasing incidence of obesity may be misguided. Macronutrients are classified by their energy-yielding biochemical properties, not by their ability to activate receptors in a manner similar to that of a hormone. It may be more productive to examine the signaling properties of a given diet to understand whether it will promote weight gain or weight loss. Identifying these food- and food metabolite–receptor interactions will provide new opportunities to understand the relationship between what we eat and diseases including obesity.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Opinion: The Nomafication of New Nordic Cuisine

Eeva Väänänen Moore wrote . . . . . . . . .

René Redzepi changed everything. No one Nordic individual has done as much to capture the attention of food writers and enthusiasts worldwide as Redzepi, who has attracted them to the region in droves since opening Noma in 2003. In the years since, both his name and that of his iconic restaurant became synonymous with “New Nordic” cuisine and the sleek, earthy aesthetic he pioneered.

Over just a handful of years, this vision propelled Copenhagen from a culinary wasteland to a food lover’s dream, and united the region’s individual countries into one gastronomic behemoth. The New York Times called his food inventive and witty, two adjectives that food critics would have been hard-pressed to apply to any pre-Redzepi restaurant in the Nordic region. Noma went on to repeatedly land on top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014); he was declared a “God of Food” by Time magazine in 2013.

But it takes more than one individual, even one as formidable in his field as Redzepi, to redefine an entire region’s cuisine and to generate a sense of cultural unanimity. In 2004, on the heels of Noma’s debut, came the New Nordic Manifesto, the brainchild of Danish restaurateur Claus Meyer (co-founder of Noma) and University of Roskilde researcher and lecturer Jan Krag Jacobsen. They invited 12 Nordic chefs — Redzepi among them — from across the region to draft and co-sign a set of food principles reminiscent of California cuisine’s commitment to local, regional, and sustainable food.

The success of the manifesto, which was released at a symposium in Copenhagen, was soon balanced atop a three-legged stool of government tourism budgets, international food writers, and ambitious chefs hungry to overthrow the old order and willing to break the first rule of being Nordic: Thou shalt not express pride. (The ethos is so deeply ingrained in the Nordic psyche that the Danes and Norwegians even have a name for it, janteloven, the Law of Jante.) Classic Nordic food — overcooked pork and prepeeled potatoes (or, if you were lucky, smørrebrød) for the Danes, and dense bread, mushrooms, and salmon anything for the rest of the region — gave way to reindeer served on a bed of moss and vintage carrots, a testament to the popularity of the manifesto’s seventh tenet: to develop new applications of traditional Nordic foods.

One of the curious effects of New Nordic cuisine is that food enthusiasts the world over now associate Nordic cuisine with a region in a way that its own residents do not. Fueled by social media and food publications, “New Nordic” is considerably more familiar to outside observers than traditional Nordic dishes are, generating a misleading sense of what is authentically Nordic. Redzepi himself credits his cooking style to his Macedonian upbringing and once noted that “Denmark has more in common with Germany than with Finland or Norway, especially when it comes to food.”

Nevertheless, here we all are — Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, etc. — under one umbrella of Nordic cuisine, putting on a nice face for the world, which, understandably, knows little of our petty, intraregional animosities. Gone are the overcooked potatoes, thank goodness. But gone from popular display are also any dishes that do not fit Noma’s signature aesthetic. And while comparing salmon soup and Karelian pies with haute cuisine is unfair, the French and Italians identify with their high-end cuisines, whether or not they consume them regularly. Nordic people not so much. Yet.

The New Nordic Manifesto’s success was undoubtedly chef led. But 5.4 million euros from the Nordic Council of Ministers, an official consortium of Nordic members of Parliament, to build a tourism industry and cultural identity around it helped. (The council has doled out the money to the New Nordic Food Program since 2007.) This month, Redzepi’s nonprofit, MAD, announced plans to open an educational center in Copenhagen with funding from the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food. And 15 years after the manifesto’s debut, investments continue to pile on from individual countries eager to generate tourism revenue.

“The New Nordic food revolution isn’t a coincidence. It happened for a reason.”

Small-scale culinary tourism has been a mainstay of Finland for decades, thanks to its so-called Everyman’s Rights law, which allows people to forage even on private property. But in the post-Nordic Manifesto world, the monetization of those rights has been kicked into high gear. Sweden has the same Everyman’s Rights law, and promotes it heavily: Visit Sweden, the country’s official tourism board, pushes Facebook and Twitter advertisements encouraging tourists to visit Sweden to forage and cook with Michelin-starred chefs. The advertisements are part of Visit Sweden’s 2017 investment of 40 million SEK, or around $4.3 million USD, over four years into culinary tourism. The sum comprises the majority (but not all) of the money spent on promoting Sweden as a food tourism destination. Contributors to these efforts include the Swedish government, the European Union’s Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and regional tourism organizations.

“The New Nordic food revolution isn’t a coincidence. It happened for a reason,” says chef Titti Qvarnström, who was the head chef at Michelin-starred Bloom in the Park in Malmö, Sweden, until 2017 (and who, I learned later from the ads, is among the chefs you can dine with in a beautiful Swedish forest). “There were many lucky factors that worked together, but it’s been a political agenda to turn this around. It was launched at the right time by the right people.” A 2018 report entitled the Solutions Menu, published by the Nordic Council of Ministers, outlines this process, looking at the politics, strategy, and goals of the New Nordic Cuisine movement: increase healthy living, promote sustainable food consumption, attract tourists, and create a new food identity.

Qvarnström’s hometown underscores just how dramatic an impact this strategy has had. A former shipbuilding town, Malmö suffered a bruising economic downturn in the ’90s. In the aughts, it became known in the region for absorbing an influx of Danes whose non-EU spouses were barred from living in Denmark by the country’s notoriously restrictive immigration laws. It’s not the sort of place you expect to find haute cuisine. And indeed, despite Bloom in the Park’s success, New Nordic has been a hard sell for many locals: “If it’s not for everybody, we don’t want it,” is a refrain Qvarnström encountered often in Malmö.

Restaurateurs in neighboring Denmark are familiar with skepticism from locals. When chef Nicolai Nørregaard opened his groundbreaking restaurant Kadeau on the remote, sleepy Danish island of Bornholm, he encountered his share of Danes looking for a classic dish of meat, potatoes, and sauce, perplexed to find dishes like kohlrabi, black currant, and Nobilis fir, or wood ants on scallops and asparagus with pickled pine leaves. But, unlike Qvarnström, Nørregaard found local skeptics to be more forgiving. “Even Danes who can’t afford it or think it’s a little ridiculous are still proud of what we’re doing,” he says. Which makes sense: Those of us who come from small countries tend to be acutely aware of our countries’ international reputations which, if you’re Nordic, include admiration of our health care systems and designers. Accolades for our food count toward that net positive, and the international attention is undeniable. At Kadeau’s Copenhagen outpost — for which Nørregaard earned two Michelin stars — roughly 80 percent of the clientele on any given night is non-Danish.

Nørregaard, who was among the earlier adoptees of the Nordic Manifesto’s call to arms, credits international media with bringing attention to the region. “I like that people write about it,” he says, “even though it’s sometimes inaccurate.” He notes that the attention has generated an influx of investor money from local accountants and lawyers and, more recently, monied angel investors, putting every talented sous chef in town within arm’s reach of their own restaurant.

Though the buzz may be lost on locals with no ties to the restaurant world, it has fundamentally changed what it is to be a chef in Copenhagen. Anika Madsen, head chef of Kadeau’s sibling Restaurant Roxie in Copenhagen, offers diners dishes like North Sea cod “wasabi” with turnips and grilled beetroots with spelt porridge, gherkin gel, and duck hearts. She began her studies in 2010, dodging Copenhagen’s ’90s restaurant doldrums entirely. She cites the city’s bustling restaurant scene as a reason she chose to pursue a career as a chef. “It’s a playground,” she says. “You don’t have classical techniques like the French. You can’t look it up in a cookbook. You can’t Google it. You have to make your own way.”

Similarly, Qvarnström, who describes her food as focusing on the here and now (a common theme in New Nordic cuisine) feels affection for, but little allegiance to, a Nordic past. She says donkey rhubarb is her favorite wild herb. “It’s not native here, but it’s spreading because it really likes it here.” In other words: A food doesn’t have to be Nordic to be Nordic cuisine. After all, what would Italian cuisine be had the tomato not immigrated to Europe from the Americas?

“I cook classic Finnish food because otherwise it will disappear.”

Not all chefs agree that the past should remain in the past. Helsinki, which, like Copenhagen, had an expensive and disappointingly sparse restaurant scene in the ’90s, differs in that it has a long tradition of fine dining restaurants serving Finnish food. Unlike Denmark, Finland drew its food influences from its neighbors and former ruling powers, Sweden and Russia. Tony Öhman, the head chef of Lehtovaara, a Finnish restaurant that is older than the country itself, is more interested in perfecting and preserving traditional Finnish food than rethinking it (think: pickled herring, smoked salmon, black rye bread, chanterelles cooked into a cream sauce, and elk that’s been stewed, smoked, or dry cured). “I cook classic Finnish food because otherwise it will disappear,” he says. Öhman seems bemused by the notion that seasonal, regional cooking is new Nordic. But even at Lehtovaara, which adheres to seasonal foods and high-quality regional suppliers, the menu is seldom exclusively Finnish; French dishes and techniques makes regular appearances. And although the Finnish fare at its Sunday brunch will knock your socks off, it’s not exactly Instagram friendly.

Juha Harmaala, co-owner and general manager of Restaurant Pelikan in Stockholm, doesn’t see New Nordic as a threat to traditional Swedish foods. Pelikan has been serving meatballs and herring since 1733, and Harmaala says a day doesn’t go by that one of his customers doesn’t tell him that they first dined there as a child with a parent or grandparent. “Somehow classic Swedish food stays in Swedish minds and hearts,” he says. “They always come back to it.”

Perfecting a dish that delights the average local attracts an altogether different type of chef. While Öhman is interested in honoring and safeguarding traditional methods and dishes, Qvarnström, Madsen, and Nørregaard are interested in upturning the old ways altogether. If they had much regard for what came before, they probably wouldn’t have staged a revolution in the first place. And given that 43 percent of non-Danish tourists now cite good places to eat as a reason to visit and 26 percent visit Denmark specifically to taste local food, restaurants like Lehtovaara and Pelikan stand to reap the benefits of that revolution, too.

Unlike the rest of the world, the chefs I spoke with don’t view New Nordic as a type of food, but rather a cultural shift that liberated them to do whatever they wanted in a region where uniformity and modesty were the norm. None see other types of Nordic cooking styles as a negation of what they choose to create in their own kitchens. That mindset tracks perfectly with a key Nordic characteristic: up close there’s regional diversity and cultural richness. It only looks like a succession of Noma plates from the outside, because that’s all our tourism industry wants to sell, and much of what outsiders want to buy.

But with great hype comes a lot of hot air, and Nørregaard and Harmaala both worry that the region’s restaurant scene is experiencing a bubble. The problem with bubbles is no one knows when they will burst, or what comes after. If the ubiquity of California cuisine is an indicator, there isn’t any going back to how it once was, but as soon as another region figures out how to rebrand its cuisine and dethrones New Nordic, paying the bills will depend on a restaurant’s ability to draw locals as well as tourists.

Source: Eater