For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

August 28, 2012

I Demand Real Food!
It’s not the first time I get moved by food to extent that I did two days ago. It’s the kind of feeling you get when the person who you’ve secretly loved for what seems like an eternity, suddenly tells you that he/she loves you back. That’s the most accurate comparison I can think of to describe it properly. Many people ask me how I manage to get so emotional about food. My answer to that question is simple: that’s just how it is when you finds the one true passion in life. That’s also why I usually compare my passion for food with love. Most people, even the ones who haven’t found that one thing they burn for, can still relate to the feeling of being in love. Love, and the passion that love awakes in you, makes you do things you’d otherwise never do in a million years. To not even mention how it makes you act and feel in unimaginable ways. Haven’t we all been there... The next time you find yourself blushing, your hands trembling and your heart racing when faced with the source of your passion, you’ll understand how I feel about food. 

On Sunday, I attended a panel discussion on locally produced food in the little town of Loviisa. I wasn’t lucky enough to actually be one of the speakers invited to the panel, but I did my part sitting in the audience. To my joy, the room was full of people of all ages as I arrived. Like an overly eager little girl on the first day of school, I took a seat in the first row. Wouldn’t want to miss any of the action or information. With my hand sweating from excitement, I applauded the speakers as they took their places behind the desk set up right in front of me.

One man, above the others, made a deep impression on me. Mats-Eric Nilsson, a journalist turned food writer, engaged the audience with a very important and poignant topic – real food.

Real food is rare. It’s actually amazingly tough to get your hands on real food these days. Now you must think I’m being delirious, but I swear I’m totally lucid. In fact, I haven’t seen things this clear for a while. By real food I mean locally produced, unprocessed food. It’s food without an endless list of additives enhancing taste, texture and color. Real food isn’t posing as food, it is food. Why do I claim it’s rare? Take any product you’ve got in your fridge. Do you know where it’s from, what it truly contains and how it’s produced? Negative, I assume, because isn’t available, accessible or affordable. We have a problem. Also my new hero, Mats-Eric Nilsson, chewed on these facts. Let’s unravel this problem, shall we.


Where I live in Helsinki there are few decent food stores at people’s disposal. Sure, there are probably hundreds of super and hypermarkets, but they all sell the same stuff more or less. And of the I’m thinking a majority of that stuff isn’t real food. One simply needs to take a closer look at the content. Before you’ve reached the end of the ingredient list, the store you’re shopping in will probably close.


Now, there are of course open-air markets that still sell real food produced by real farmers, but most people living in Helsinki for example, don’t have access to these markets. Open-air markets are known to open before the birds even start singing and the stands are stripped out of the best and freshest produce before lunchtime. The average working adult will for this reason never have the chance to even see a glimpse of this food. It’s like an urban legend one hears talk about. Those sweet amazing potatoes sold by the charming old farmer at the market… I still haven’t seen those potatoes, or the charming farmer.


Luckily, both aforementioned dilemmas have been relieved to at least some extent. Small producers who produce real food with the right ethics and food philosophy have been given the chance to reach the consumers through little food boutiques and shops that only sell food with certain quality and level. These shops are as picky as I am when it comes to food, its origins, purity and freshness. However, an additional dilemma arises. Even though I’d rather not eat for a week than buying bad, processed foods, I still can’t afford to exclusively shop at these little shops. Since most Finns haven’t realized that real food simply tastes better than “fake food”, the demand on real food is still rather low, even though it’s growing fast. And since demand isn’t grand, the little food shops can keep their current price levels.

* * *

There’s an important point that Mats-Eric also highlighted. This point needs to be taken into consideration when talking about the price one has to pay for real food these days. It’s about equal comparison. When it comes to food, people seem to be stingier than with other consumer goods. Take mobile phones for instance. I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks they can get a brand new iPhone for the price of an old Nokia phone. Because the person who wants an iPhone knows the quality of the product and thus estimates it higher than an old Nokia, this person makes no objections when typing in the credit card pin code, making him the owner of a brand new super phone. Same goes for cars. Like Mats-Eric argued, “no one would ever argue the remarkable difference between a Skoda and a Jaguar”. Still, for some despicable reason, people can go for hours complaining about the price of a locally produced biological cucumber comparing it to a hard, plastic-like, Spanish one. I rest my case.

This is the point during the panel discussion that I seriously thought I would stand up and scream out of relief that someone says theses things straight out loud. I wanted to jump over the desk that served as a barrier between us and embrace this amazing Swedish man who spoke straight to my heart. There were elderly people and children in the audience, so I had to detain myself.

Not only did this man verbalize the ugly truth about people’s misbeliefs and total ignorance concerning food, he even offered a pretty straightforward solution to this seemingly heavy issue. It’s in fact the answer to most problems: Communication. Since a plastic wrapped, hormonally modified and chemically pampered piece of so-called meat can’t talk, the consumer can’t know the truth of its fate, treatment and life. Not even its origin is to more detail than its country of origin. In worst cases, the only trace of the products origin is stated with two letters, EU. The meat could be from anywhere and gone through all kinds of procedures, as far as I’m concerned.

Obviously, in one way or another, you need a face to communicate. And since packaging hasn’t gone through a 2.0 evolution (yet), there’s only that much information that can still be available on the wrapping of a product. Some producers have certainly tried the impossible and almost managed to write a novel on a 5x5cm label using font size 0,1, but that’s somehow counterproductive, I must say. Trying to read it will surely take me until closing time. So even though we have a solution, we need to find a way to implement the solution. Firstly, we must learn to acknowledge the lack of real food. Secondly, value real food. Thirdly, desire real food over “fake food”. Finally, demand real food, real food with a face!

After the panel discussion and after shaking hands with Mr Nilsson (and no I didn’t force myself on him), I was extremely pleased to find a "local food only" open-air market right outside the auditorium. As I walked from stand to stand with tears of joy in my eyes, there was one stand that I couldn't only look at. What I found at that stand was one of those true urban legend products. I had heard my Granny and Mum talking about it, but had never I encountered it in my life. Ladies and Gentlemen, an urban legend no more! Let me present to you a fine raw material: Ternimaito. In English, the best way to call it is first milk, as it is exactly that – the very first form of milk produced by mammals (including humans) in late pregnancy. In Finland, ternimaito is used among other things to make a delicious dessert-like oven cheese, which it couldn’t be any simpler. You mix ternimaito and normal milk, pour the mix in an oven form and pop it in the oven 175°c for 1 hour. When it’s done you sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on it (personally, I prefer honey).  To give you and idea of the taste and texture, think about a crème brûlée and I think you’ll get the picture.

The charming (young) cow farmer barely had time to greet me before I was already handing him the money I owed him for half a liter of ternimaito. I was overwhelmed by happiness, had in tears of joy and I told him I loved him. No wonder the poor man blushed… I blushed too, so it was okay I guess. I couldn't help it, I had found real food! The man who most likely had milked the cow with his own hand, stood right in front of me. The farm where the cows live a happy life was only 15 km away.

In the car on my way home, I studied the ternimaito bottle with care. And this is what I read on the label:

Ternimaito from Henrikas Ladugård
Content: protein, fat and carbohydrates. 
Packaging day: 11.05.12 
Instructions: Stored frozen up to six months. To be consumed immediately after defrosting. 

Thank you Henrikas Ladugård! I also love what your product did for me.

1 comment:

  1. You made me very hungry! It`s nice to take part of your experiences in Loviisa. In Swedish we make "kalvdans" of "råmjölk". Welcome to this little beautiful town, were is always good to live, and we have all you need :)

    PS. I`m thinking about a workshop. Are you still interested?

    Rune in the Pottery


Tell me what you think. Did I make you hungry?