At the age of 11, Afton Halloran decided to become vegetarian. A year later, at school, she had to learn to cook during a home economics class. The class started with how to make a proper English tea but as weeks went by things became more sophisticated and the pupils learnt to make cookies, soup etc.
One day, they had to learn how to make a proper roast beef dinner. “When I heard this, I went to the teacher and told her that I had no reason to learn this recipe because I had become a vegetarian. At first the teacher looked in shock, then she became angry and asked and just how do you think that you will ever find a husband.”
Afton Halloran was speaking at the European Food Summit organised in Ljubljana last month.
Dr Halloran has over the past 12 years built up a robust background in the field of sustainable food systems and she is also consultant to the Nordic Council of Ministers working on a project called the Nordic Food Policy Lab.
Although she is no longer vegetarian because of the nature of her job, she is of course extremely conscious of how we eat and the need to make urgent changes to the way we eat.
At the conference she reflected on 10 trends that she wanted to highlight about Europe.
She said that while people in Europe tend to think that ‘we are better’ in reality European waist sizes are growing and between 30 to 70% of European adults are overweight and one in three European children are either overweight or obese.
Afton said that over the past 100 years, lifestyles have changed completely given the fact that people work less with their bodies and more in front of screens. “The diets are no longer fit for the lifestyles we live. Although per kilo consumption of meat in the EU has decreased slightly in recent years, the average daily consumption of meat is quite high with Europeans eating around 100 kilos of meat each year compared to an average of 40 kilos.
Giving the example of Project Drawdown she said that by reducing the food we throw away, increasing the volume of plants we eat and reducing the amount of meat we consume a real change can be made to counteracting climate change.
- Wanted: new paradigms and mindsets – we need to start to question our education systems. Our world is on fire and the only thing we can think of is banning plastic straws. We need to think more seriously and radically about making changes. The global challenges that we are facing call for a total rehaul of political, educational, economic systems.
- Education and skills that match today’s needs: Some of the problems we face today are due to the fact that we don’t know any better. We should re-examine eduction models because this will be an important step to helping to understand how we can move towards a more sustainable future.
- Hope doesn’t cut it any more: While the best decisions are not taken in moments of panic, Greta Thunberg is right when she told heads of state at the World Economic Summit that she didn’t want their hope but she wanted them to panic. “I do think that she is right to bring the urgency that climate change presents to the world. In the Nordic region, where I live now, 30% of millennials are either flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan. Similar trends are also being seen in other parts of Europe.”
- Less but better is the new mantra: We’re starting to see new mantras within the food industry – less, but better quality. This is how we should be eating now.
- Food has become the new religion: As Europeans become less and less religious, we look for new ways to assert our values and ideologies. Food has become a religion in itself and our bodies are our temples. Kale has become a revolution, a way of thinking differently.
- We are reactivating forgotten heritage: It is not all bad. There are signs that we are revisiting the past. Sourdough bread has never been cooler, in Stockholm there is a hotel where residents of the neighbourhood can take their sourdough starters while they are on vacation.
- Thinking in systems will take us further: It is easy to demonise other players within the food system, especially when you have never had the opportunity to meet them, but if we want to solve complex challenges, we’ll need to invest in more collaborative processes.
- There are no silver bullets: Inspects should be seen as a metaphor. We need to open our mind to food that is not part of our culture. The 2000+ edible species of insects are just one of the many options of how we can add more diversity into our diets. Diversity – whether it be in an ecosystem or in a kitchen – will always win in the end.
- We can create new food cultures: Tomatoes were not part of a European diet in the past. But things evolved. Why not have the same with insects or with different concepts and ideas from other cultures?
- Europe does not exist in a vacuum: The European food system is nested within the global food system. The choices that we make every time that we engage with our food does have an effect on other parts of the planet. Due to the historic global dominance of European food culture, many people in other parts of the world are watching how we eat and aspire to do the same once they gain more disposable income. What kind of example do we want to set for the world?