Copenhagen research trip

An great week of inspirational research in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had the opportunity to talk to some of the brains behind the booming food culture in Copenhagen, about everything from farming to space food.

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Kødbyen, Copenhagen’s historic meatpacking district. During the summer months, a hip food destination for locals.

Kødbyens Mad og Marked: Farmer’s market and street food in the Meatpacking District

Simon told me about the vision behind the seasonal street food and farmer’s market in Kødbyen. Unlike other food markets such as Torvehallerne or Papirøen, Kødbyen is a place not only for tourists but for locals as well. It’s a tricky balance to have a broad variety without promoting competition among the stallholders, and to make sure they have enough visitors who make it worthwhile for farmers to travel all the way to the city. Simon sees and absolute shift in city dwellers’ taste and preference towards trustworthy, farm-to-table food. However, we still have a distorted picture of consumer behaviour: polls may suggest the public’s willingness to buy ecological produce, but these responses might not always translate to true action. Along with providing consistently high quality, farmers have to get better at telling their own story: consumers are looking for a more personal connection with the producers of the food they eat.

“It should be illegal to sell non-ecological food.”
– Simon Bacon

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Simon Bacon, one of the entrepreneurs behind the Kødbyens Mad og Marked

Københavns Madhus: The company behind the organic movement in Copenhagen’s municipal kitchens

Most school kids in Copenhagen cook their own lunch – sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? In the past 10 years, Københavns Madhus has been working on transforming the city’s public food policy with an organic, natural, home-made-style system in mind, which serves wholesome and healthy food, and also makes sure children learn to understand and prepare food. In elementary schools, highly trained chefs assist a group of 20 children who are responsible for cooking lunch for the entire school, within a limited amount of time. Over the years, kids develop an open mind and experimental palate, and learn to appreciate food, and the people who create it.

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In Copenhagen’s public institutions, children and the elderly eat 90% organic: conversion in hearts and brains.

 

“[We care to] bring prestige back to kitchen jobs. Without the kitchen staff, we couldn’t have done it.”
– Lars Bjerregaard

 

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Lars Bjerregaard, journalist at Københavns Madhus

Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen: food research with ‘feel-good’ approach

Wender Bredie, professor in Sensory and Consumer Science at the Department of Food Science at University of Copenhagen, told me about his research on perceived quality of food, and programming and de-rogramming people towards certain food preferences: when testing with analytical panels, his research group uses humans as measuring tools. What surprised me is his take on food & health in today’s society – he advocates for the balance of proper nutrition and a pleasurable experience.

“We tend to create rigid [food] systems, but nature is not like that.”
–Wender

According to their research insights, there is still a lingering misunderstanding about healthy food – we are easily fooled by our instinctive perception of sensory properties: if there is no immediate negative feeling, it must be good for us, or at least not harmful. What strikes me is the science of food preference in relation to an element of surprise: usually, surprise doesn’t make us like food better. The group has a lifespan approach to researching perceived food quality, they work with infants up to seniors, researching differences in cognitive development between boys and girls; or the effect of visual composition on elderly food preference.

 

Biologigaragen: A bio-hackerspace with post-apocalyptic food experiments

A few years ago, the DIYBio movement has reached Labitat, a makerspace in Copenhagen: Biologigaragen is a well-kept secret backdoor to a room full of biotech equipment used for simple science experiments. To make these experiments relatable and exciting for people who have no background in biology, often they involve [planned-to-become] edible organisms – like Arthrospira platensis, protein-rich green algae known as Spirulina. Once the culture has reached adequate growth, it can be harvested, dried and consumed.

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Spirulina growing under controlled temperature and pH levels.

So why bother growing Spirulina for months instead of picking it off the shelf at a health food store? Apart from the intrinsic interest in biology and biotechnology, Biologigaragen’s hackers find such experiments a way to think about alternative food sources, decentralised food systems, just in case of emergency. The plan is to get through the first trials and errors, then share the learnings with other members who are interested in growing Spirulina at home.

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Timi and Bue from Biologigaragen, observing the growth progress of the Spirulina culture.
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Other exciting organic ‘delicacies’.
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