Nordic Conclusion

We arrived at Høst, a modest restaurant front, at 6 pm. The first detail I noticed was the clean and simple tan uniform that the employees wore. The restaurant had a hipster-minimalistic feel. Our table was located under the restaurant. Water, sparkling water, glasses, bread, and lap napkins were set on the table. Fifteen minutes into our dinner we were served our first dish. I expected small portions and the first dish seemed to prove my point. The bread and the first dish were served on natural inedible materials such as grass and rocks. I am not sure if those materials were solely for decoration.

Rather than listing every dish that I had, I will share the ones that I was most intrigued by. Firstly, the small white strawberry. It was a Danish strawberry. It was clever to take a traditional food such as the Danish strawberry and dip it in a Danish classic such as mayo. The seventh statement in the New Nordic Manifesto is as follows, “To develop new possible applications of traditional Nordic food products.” I felt that the strawberry and mayo combo exemplified that statement.

Another dish that got me going was the creamy grains with peas and marigolds. As a child, I could only dream of eating flowers. The dainty purple flowers looked almost too delicate to eat but eating the fried marigold felt so natural. I’ve always felt that no matter what the food, if fried, it will taste good. The marigold was proof for me. The peas and grains were covered in a rather sweet dressing which complemented the flowers well.

The first dessert I experienced was more obscure than the ice cream. It was described as a liquid nitrogen cream and was topped with a tiny pinecone. The tiny pinecone packed a huge punch. I ate the pinecone first, as instructed, and the flavor lasted with every bite of the porridge like dessert. The taste of the cream was sweet yet subtle. I tasted the purity of the dish. In the presentation entitled New Nordic Cuisine, purity is described as such, “Achieving harmony with the environment is important – it reflects the image we have of Nordic society.” I feel like there was a harmony between the strong taste of the pinecone and the subtle taste of the cream. The use of a natural ingredient, the pinecone, gives off the sense of harmony.

The atmosphere of Høst reflected the qualities of New Nordic cuisine- simplicity, purity, and harmony with nature. Our server calmly and proudly described each dish as they reflected the culture of the country where she lived. The mood of the event was laid back. While many people in the restaurant were dressed semi-formally, they seemed to be social and easy-going. The restaurant was what I imagined it to be- minimalist and for well off customers. The food surprised me. While some dishes were minuscule and the plates looked like works of art, the food was of outstanding quality. The dishes all embodied the New Nordic Manifesto. I didn’t expect the food to be as flavorful as they were. While eating New Nordic cuisine, I related to Jared Demick when he wrote, “Senses dilled, you are eating memories, splinters of a landscape tattooed on your tongue.” The New Nordic dinner was more than a meal, it was an experience of the Nordic landscape. I am grateful that I ended the trip with a New Nordic dinner. Nordic cultures, especially the Danes, value time spent together so it was only natural that we ate dinner as a class.

It Begins in the Community

When I first learned that I would be working at Foodsharing Copenhagen I had very few expectations. I thought that there wouldn’t be many people showing up to get food and that the people who would come through would be low income. I expected my experience at Foodsharing to be like any volunteer work that I had ever partook in- I’d show up, be assigned a position and work for a specific amount of time.

I was surprised to learn that Foodsharing Copenhagen was poppin’- many people of different ethnicities and income levels came to collect food that would’ve otherwise been discarded. I also worked alongside people from around the world. While the experience was similar to American volunteer work in a sense (I worked a certain shift) the instructions were vague and nobody was assigned specific positions. The program ran very efficiently despite the lack of thorough instructions. Another big difference between volunteer programs in America and in Denmark is the purpose of the event. This event would have been targeted toward people of a lower income in America, but it wasn’t in Denmark. When I posted about the event with the caption “free food” on my Instagram story, Foodsharing Copenhagen reposted my story with “aka rescued food”. The Danish program was geared towards eliminating food waste and was happy to give the food to anyone who wanted it. My appreciation for Foodsharing Copenhagen grew when I learned that everyone was welcome partake in facilitating and taking food.

At first, it was difficult to find myself being of use to the program. With a lack of instruction, I felt confused. I asked questions and nobody seemed to be bothered, rather, they were all willing to point out areas where help was needed. The whole process was satisfying- seeing everyone come together for a cause, setting up/cleaning a facility, discarding inedible food, filling crates with fresh food, and distributing food to a diverse group of people. Seeing a hall go from nothing to something was amazing and required a lot of hard work. At the end of each shift, I felt content, knowing that I helped make an impact in the community. I don’t feel disappointed with my experience with Foodsharing Copenhagen. I feel nothing but inspired by the success of a grass roots organization that is being kept alive by community members with a single mission- to lessen the ever-growing problem of food waste. I learned that all it takes to keep a successful program going is hardworking and driven volunteers.

I may have been an “outsider” in the experience, but I didn’t feel like one. There were a couple people who were new to the program and they faired just fine as well. Matter of fact, the main man who oversaw Foodsharing Copenhagen had only arrived in Copenhagen this past September. The main difference between me, an “outsider”, and the “insiders” was experience. The “insiders” were always willing to answer questions.

I learned that food justice starts within the community. The events that I volunteered in took place in the Karens Minde Kulturhus- a community center with a library, computers, a playground, horses, and a room with panels that could open (the food sharing took place here). Conveniently, the food that didn’t get taken or composted were fed to the horses. Hosting a food share event at a community center (which is also near a train station) made it assessible to members of the community. I am now convinced that food justice needs to occur on a small scale in order make any sort of an impact.

In the video entitled The Danish recipe to cut food waste, Selina Juul mentions that the reason why people waste food is because they can. I believe that for similar reasons, people attend and volunteer at Foodsharing Copenhagen- because they can. Instead of using the logic to be destructive, people can use the logic for better. Abundance doesn’t have to be an issue. Michael Pollan stated, “Americans have not had to think very hard about where their food comes from, or what it is doing to the planet, their bodies, and their society.” Since Americans are careless about obtaining food, more food waste occurs. At food share events nobody knows what they will be able to acquire but the purpose of the event makes people more aware of the impact of their decisions.

If I could educate others about food justices, I’d begin with community efforts. Food share events should be available in every community. I’d then explain that every food choice made at grocery stores is important. Everyone should differentiate between what they want and need. Abundance is greater in the US, so more consumer awareness is required. Overall, if I communicate the idea of community action and self-awareness, I believe that larger scale food justice can take place.

Mæxican tries Mæxico

It had been approximately two weeks since I arrived in Copenhagen and since my then, I had not consumed my staple foods- beans and rice. Curious, but not quite homesick, I found myself seeking my beloved Mexican cuisine. A quote by Jennifer Berg in Choi’s article encompasses my yearning for Mexican food, “With food, it’s something you’re engaging in hopefully three times a day, and so there are more opportunities to connect to memory and family and place.” Conveniently, a three-minute walk away, a small restaurant by the name of Mæxico existed and fulfilled my desires.

Initially, I walked past the storefront as it was lower than ground level. I noticed outdoor seating and some cacti in the window which brought my eyes back to the doorway. I knew I was in the right place when I saw saloon style doors that read “el baño”. I walked down the stairs towards the saloon doors and front counter. A young (presumably Danish) man in a casual, white short sleeve button up shirt appeared to be training another young man with colorful, sunset-printed short sleeve button up shirt. Already, I sensed a chill atmosphere.  The man in the white shirt saw me and walked up to the counter. He asked me if it was just me dining and mentioned that the table nearest to the counter was available until 7 pm. Apparently, the restaurant is often busy around the later evening hours and takes reservations. The restaurant seated about thirty people inside (consisting of booths and bar seats) and ten people outside. Spanish music played at a reasonable volume. As I sat down, the man handed me a menu- a clip board which contained three small papers. There were several familiar plates with twists. After browsing through the menu, I watched the man train the new employee and noticed another female employee at the mini bar. Eventually, the man who welcomed me noticed that I was looking at him and came to take my order. I asked for water and a typical Danish server response, he asked, “still or sparkling?” I wanted still per usual. I then ordered a sweet potato burrito and plantain chips with salsa. I chose the burrito with sweet potatoes because A. it’s not a dish that you can order from an average Mexican restaurant back in America and B. because my grandma is always making funky burritos with leftover veggies at home. Also, plantain chips are not commonly a Mexican dish, but I love plantains, so I ordered them for an extra 6 kr. Rather than bringing the water out in a normal jar, I was given an old tequila bottle and a small cup with ice and a lime. I was very pleased with that idea- the restaurant remained Danish when serving water but used the recycled bottle and lime to create a Mexican ambience. No longer than fifteen minutes later, both the plantain chips and burrito were served. I was surprised at the amount of chips there were. The plantain chips were perfectly salted with the right amount of crunch in every bite. The burrito was also of a decent portion size. I was very pleased with the savory addition of the sweet potatoes to the timeless classic. As I enjoyed my food, I overheard the employees teaching each other Spanish. Midway through my meal, the server walked up to me with a smile and asked, “¿Está Bien?” Great efforts were made to make the dining experience authentic.

            Throughout my time in the restaurant, I noticed many people (possibly Danish) either pick up to go orders (customers themselves and Wolt employees with their huge insulated bags) or stay to dine with previously made reservations. When I finished eating, I went to the counter and asked for my bill. The new employee rung me up. The culture of Mæxico was not quite that of a typical Mexican restaurant back home but still felt welcoming. The servers attended to my needs there more than servers at other Danish restaurants. I was surprised to find a Mexican inspired restaurant. According to Schroeder the Danes have a history of enjoying cuisines other than their own, “Gourmet French food became the standard for fine dining in Danish restaurants, rather than traditional Danish foods.” I am grateful to have experienced an interesting interpretation of Mexican food in Denmark – so many miles away from home!

If you give a Dane a potato…

Thus far, my experience with the Danish foodways have been positive. On the day of my arrival, I was offered leftover pizza from the DIS welcome dinner. I enjoyed a veggie pizza topped with olives, tomatoes, greens of some sort, and many other vegetables that I cannot recall. That pizza was like the type of pizza back in The States. The other slice of pizza intrigued me more- potatoes atop a cheese potato! Prior to the trip, I knew that the Danes loved potatoes, but I had no clue that potatoes were a topping on pizza. The potato pizza was, in my honest opinion, very tasty. Who would’ve known that adding more carbs to an already carby food would be so yummy? I consumed the pizza with a familiar beverage from my childhood. Capri-Sun, to my surprise, exists in Denmark. The flavor? Multivitamin. I still cannot figure out what that means. The pouch had pictures of various fruits. Perhaps the Danes, similarly to the Americans, buy products that appear to have nutritional value.

Adding onto the theme of potatoes, I tried my first open faced sandwich (smørrebrød). The sandwich that I tried was topped with potatoes and veggies. Smørrebrød is essentially a bread with toppings but without a second slice of bread. I admire that the Danes enjoy their sandwich with only one slice of bread because it allows for more toppings and less bread. Though I love bread, smørrebrød are commonly made with rye bread which can be dry. Therefore, using one slice of bread makes for a sandwich that can be enjoyed for more than just it’s bread. The Danes are not only practical in ways of planning their city and having a good work-play balance, they are also very practical with their dishes. The one slice of bread concept is a prime example of this.

The Danes have a way of incorporating foods of different cultures into their cuisine. In other words, globalization occurs in Denmark. I experienced a hamburger and fries from the supposed best burger joint in Copenhagen- The Hungry Dane. The fries were not similar the fries you’d munch out on in the U.S. The fries weren’t made with oil and grease. The fries had a similar taste and texture to that of the potatoes on the pizza and the smørrebrød that I tried. Potatoes don’t even originate from Denmark but again, the Danes have made it their own. They also perfected mayo to their liking. The options for dipping sauce were mayo, spicy mayo and tartar sauce. The mayo was sweeter than American mayo. The burger itself also consisted of ingredients that the Danes have come to cherish. The burger had cabbage and carrots. Cabbage and carrots were brought to Denmark via the Dutch according to Schroeder (p. 8). The burger lived up to it’s “best burger in town” reputation and I’d argue that it was due to it’s clever use of foods that don’t typically go in burgers.

Restaurants and even 7-11 markets across Copenhagen seem to have many vegan and vegetarian options. I feel that the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle has become international. Like the U.S., menus and products are clearly labeled vegan/vegetarian. Overall, however, I feel that the dining out and grocery shopping experience is very different in the U.S, compared to Copenhagen. When dining in Copenhagen, I’ve found that I must initiate communication with the waiters, tipping is uncommon, and water is not free. Grocery shops in Copenhagen offer a drastically smaller variety of products than the supermarkets in America. The smaller variety seems to be because there are many more markets and the Danes buy food fresh daily or multiple times a week as needed. I think that when I live on my own in America, I will try to shop like the Danes. I will buy less foods with preservatives and make my meals fresh. It seems that by shopping as needed, food doesn’t go to waste, money is saved, and fresh, healthy meals are valued.

The Danes are practical eaters and shoppers. Americans can benefit by taking up the Danes’ food habits.

More Than Just Fuel

My relationship with food extends beyond fueling my body. Up until I started working, family dinners have occurred nearly everyday. The dinner table is a place where my family comes together to discuss our day, joke around, and even argue. Food not only fuels our bodies- it fuels discussion. Even after my parents separated, both households continued the tradition of family dinners. As I grew up, I visited various friends’ homes and noticed that the practice of family dinners is not all that common. I am convinced that sharing meals with my family has brought us together.

When I was a child, I was picky eater. My mom went out of her way to cook a separate meal for my brothers and I. She made food from different cultures yet I was never willing to try them as a child. Aside from dinosaur chicken nuggets and Kraft mac n cheese, McDonald’s was my go to. My mom stuffed our lunch pales with pb&j sandwiches (although mine only had peanut butter- jelly? no thank you), fruit snacks, a Capri-sun, and a banana. My first experience with cultural food was with my grandma. A trip to grandma’s house was always made best with her refried beans topped with cheese and a big bowl of grandma’s sopita (sopa de fideo).

In high school, I began to try more foods. At that point in time, I lived primarily at my dad’s house. He and my stepmom cooked Mexican dishes for dinner which consisted of beans, rice, and meat. They did cook veggies, however my diet largely consisted of meat. Our meals reflected my dad’s sole income and our household of seven. Lunch was free since I worked in the lunch line at school. Breakfast was either Pop Tarts or cereal.

Mexican parties are where extended family come together and amazing food is made! Christmas, particularly December 24th, is undoubtedly the most beloved holiday in my family. My dad’s side of the family gathers at my grandma’s home and tamales that my grandma spends two months producing are consumed joyfully. My grandma and my aunts spend weekends prior to Christmas chatting and preparing tamales in an assembly line fashion. Birthday parties and holidays are spent at the park grilling meat and veggies. Usually the men all bond while grilling and everyone eats in a big group.

What do I eat as a college student and laborer? I am not picky at all. I eat whatever and whenever I can. I am a vegetarian so the only thing I will turn down is meat. I enjoy trying new foods. My diet has took a 180 degree turn from what I ate in high school. I live at my grandma’s house so I still eat a ton of beans and rice. My grandma has expanded her cooking to include foods from every culture which I am always open to try. I’d say that most days, I eat like an American- fast and carelessly. I don’t eat fast food often, rather I take leftovers. Although I am a girl on the go, I take every opportunity to eat with my grandparents, mom, dad, and family. The family dinner is and will always be cherished. It is refreshing to be able to eat slow and bond with my family while doing so.