“Eat food. Not much. Mainly plants.” Or – eating your way through the election manifestos

The title of the blog comes from Michael Pollan and is pretty good, you have to admit. I’ve been inspired By Michal Pollan for a long time. Though some of his books on food industry seem a bit far way from our every day life, there are such a lot of parallels and they really make you think (see for instance: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food or Cooked: A natural history of transformation). My favorite book of Michael Pollan’s however is his “Food Rules”, beautifully illustrated By Maire Kalman. (for the whole story and more info, see: http://michaelpollan.com/)


One of my favorite rules: “Eat Animals that have themselves eaten well”. Easy to agree, isn’t it?

Another favorite is “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. Though we might as well make it “grandmother”, don’t you think?

In my last blog I was musing on a recent visit to Paris whilst also reminiscing over a much earlier visit in 1988. As we have become increasingly consumed with food and all of the issues related to it, it is clear that food is, in itself, now a highly political issue. In 1988 only the most enlightened had heard about ‘the politics of food’ and animal rights were given very little attention, in France as elsewhere. Today the situation has changed completely. People now pay much more attention to (and money on) what they eat, believing that there is inherent value in what you eat. The most ethically upright have long been the vegetarians, though, unfortunately, I am incapable of such unselfishness. Sure we had read our Peter Singer’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Liberation_(book), already in the 1980s, but vegetarians were few and far between and finding proper vegetarian food outside the main urban centres  in Finland was nearly impossible. Living in Turku, we were lucky: Verso, one of the first vegetarian restaurants in Finland used to be our local when at university. Such a shame that despite the global megatrend of vegetarian ideology, the restaurant closed in 2003!


It was however many years before Elina Lappalainen’s excellent book on animal welfare and animals raised for food in Finland really generated mainstream attention: “Raised to be eaten” (Syötäväksi kasvatetut) won the Tieto-Finlandia prize in 2012 and was on many a Christmas shopping list that year. The common sense approach of Lappalainen’s book was what really made it such a success: whilst acknowledging that Finns are big meat eaters (we eat almost 80 kilos of meat on average a year, with the amount of meat having gone up by 25% in the last 20 years, despite increasing awareness of the negative health effects, impact on the environment etc.), we do not really know or are aware of what it is we eat. Lappalainen’s starting point of Finns having become ‘alienated’ from food was a healthy one: the image of cute little piglets, adorable little calves or chicks has little to do with the industrial products that end up on our plates, and in fact in many cases, it seems we’d rather just not know. This creates something of a paradox; we know and want to know more about the source of our food yet, when faced with the stark reality of this information, we are discomfited. Lappalainen did not sensationalise the topic; rather she demystified it and said: right, some of us still want to eat meat, which options are the least harmful or least ethical? (For Elina Lappalainen and her publications, see: http://www.syotavaksikasvatetut.fi/). She did not take extreme views or make us feel uncomfortable just to make headlines, rather she simply showed us what the implications and options of our choices as meat-eaters were and this was widely welcomed.


I for one have moved to decreasing the amount of meat on my plate, especially giving up pork all together and favouring organic lamb and cockerel. I’ve also tried to follow (yet more) of Michael Pollan’s food rules: eat meat that has itself eaten well and treat meat as food for a special occasion. Only baby steps, I know, but small steps are sometimes required before the big leap.



Also I’ve found that making the vegetarian side dishes the stars of a meal can also make a difference; recent cases of serving organic lamb with fennel and feta salad, as well as the traditional British lamb roast with “granny’s cucumbers” (with a couple of twists, i.e. replacing normal vinegar with rice and apple vinegar, as well as mustard seeds with coriander seeds plus dill with coriander).

Vegetarian ideology and a concern for animal welfare as major political issues still do not seem to have been mainstreamed. Yet responsible and sustainable food, animals as a form of food and related issues remain surprisingly absent in the election debate. Though in Finland the share of agriculture and food production in the economy has progressively declined, the turnover of all things food is still significant, 26,70 bill eur (Niemi & Ahlstedt eds. (2014): Suomen maaseutu ja maaseutuelinkeinot 2014, available at: https://portal.mtt.fi/portal/page/portal/mtt/mtt/julkaisut/suomenmaatalousjamaaseutuelinkeinot/jul115_SM2014.pdf). As a source of direct employment, the food and agriculture sector has also been on the decline, though considerable attention has been given to green growth, the bio economy and related themes as possible growth areas in a decreasing national economy. The circular economy and a focus on reducing waste, including food waste, have also brought food and our relationship with it into sharper focus. And this is all well and good. Yet somehow surprisingly little political attention is given to these topics even today.

Making_things_happen I went through the election campaign manifestos and was a bit surprised how little attention was in fact paid to these issues. I suppose the parties have done their homework: the issues of sustainable agriculture, food production and animal welfare must not interest people that much, certainly not as much as many other topics. Perhaps at times of economic hardship, the ethics of food and animals seem to be among the first issues to be set aside.

Anyone remember the Gandhi quote about the greatness of a nation being best judged by the way it treats its animals …?


Not surprisingly, given its traditions and historical background, the Green party is the one with the most focus on animal welfare and the development of an ecological production standard.

The Swedish party SFP is most clear in its support for “sustainable and profitable” farming (and forestry), as well as domestic greenhouse production and maintaining the fisheries industry in Finland. Not surprising, given its electorate, though unfortunate for animal rights, is the continuing support of the Swedish party for the fur industry in Finland.

De-regulation is in general on everyone’s agenda, not surprisingly. For the Swedish party this includes ensuring that the regulative burden is minimised in cases where the preconditions for domestic production make it necessary. Strengthening the position of producers in the food production chain and supporting endeavours seeking to prioritise food produced locally while increasing the level of awareness among consumers of such options sound like welcome pledges for food sustainability.

The National coalition does not focus particularly on food related issues, except for their desire to keep domestic food production profitable. Yet they are not terribly detailed in outlining what this might mean.

The Centre party does not want to be burdened too much by its traditional close ties with the agricultural sector and the food industry and perhaps therefore includes few food-relevant topics in its manifesto. They do however set the goal of making Finland world-renowned as a problem-solver in food-, water and energy shortage related problems. That would indeed be a wonderful mission to accomplish, though the concrete means remain to be outlined in any detail in the actual manifesto.

The Finns have in turn produced a separate policy document on rural policy, perhaps in their attempt to lure Centre party voters rather than their previous targets of ex-social democratic voters. Their manifesto includes some very concrete issues that would be welcomed for sustainable food production supporters: food production closer to home, more endogenous products to be served in centralised institutional kitchens, more local choices for consumers, such as fish and reindeer in the shops and better preconditions for ecological production, including education and research.

Food may not be the number one topic in the coming election, but there remains some food for thought for those inclined, and not always in the circles where you most expect it.  The various (numerous) digital platforms, which help you to choose between  candidates (more or less serious, as they may be) have quite a few questions about food production and its sustainability, less however on animal rights. Notable exceptions – not surprisingly – include Animalia and the Finnish Animal Rights Association (SEY, Eläinsuojeluliitto). (Find your candidate –platform for animal rights: http://vaalikone.elainpolitiikka.net/ ) As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say…


The least we can do is to remember the topic is there and make sure not to let the candidates forget it either: let’s stop just talking about it! Ask your candidate about what she or he is willing to do in order to maintain domestic production, promote ethical production and support animal rights.  To start with…


Pictures: my own, except  “The wonderful thing…” – Source: glitterandgreens.blogspot.com and “If it came from a plant” By Popsugar: http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Michael-Pollan-Quote-About-Eating-30403600)

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