Monthly Archives: September 2012

We want local food – but what is it?

Where do you come from, broiler?

Local food is a big thing in Finland these days. It’s truly in fashion, at least the trendy people of Helsinki constantly talk about how they want their food local.

New (expensive) stores selling local products pop-up all around the city. Like this one, Anton&Anton in Töölö.

Of course, the elder generations know better and have been consuming local food all their lives – without making a fuss about it. Still, I think this one is a good trend – as long as it doesn’t make the prices go up too much. And there is another major problem: nobody really knows what actually is local food?

This weekend I’m visiting my parents in Tampere and yesterday the local newspaper Aamulehti published an opinion about local food, which will surely provoke debate.

A guy called Visa Merikoski, the director of MTK Pirkanma, the local division of Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, claimed that soon even broiler from Brazil will be considered as local product, if the current trend continues.

He says that yes, local food interests the consumers a lot, and this is way so many supermarket chains are now thinking hard how to take the advantage of the trend. They sell images and when it comes to local food, the tendency is to lie – just a little bit.

Why? Because “at its worst” Polish wheat, Danish pork or Brazilian chicken might end up being local food as in most supermarkets one can already find products, whose origins are not announced correctly.

As consumers prefer local food, it seems logical that the main reason for hiding the origins is that they are not from near here… not even from Finland. In the end, the consumer believes he/she’s buying something he isn’t. This could be called cheating, or at least hiding the truth.

The thing is that everyone has the right to define local food from their own point of view. The consumers think that only small-scale production means local and they hate the idea of industrial production. Some connect local food to organic food.

The food production industry thinks that what counts is where the food is made, not from where the ingredients come from.

Then there are the farmers, who want ingredients that arrive from as near as possible – at least from inside Finland.

And the food production workers think that domestic work is very important.

One might guess that all these different ideas cause a mess when it comes to marketing local food.

(Finnish?) rye bread

For example, Mr. Visa tells that in one local supermarket they don’t tell the origins of a pork product, whose name refers to something 100% local (the product in this case was Tapolan ylikypsä kinkku). Probably it had been made right here in Tampere, but not telling it makes one suspicious… naturally.

So why don’t the producers tell the facts, when the information would attract more consumers??

One might also find bread – on the shelf reserved for local food – whose wheat has travelled a long way. The bakers tend to explain that domestic wheat is not always available, so they cannot commit to using it. This is not true: one can always get domestic wheat, it just might not be as cheap as the foreign ones.

In brief, every Finn has encountered products that carry a Finnish flag or other symbol referring to it being national, even if the product might be something totally different.

Does this mean it’s Finnish – really?

If we don’t talk about this openly, the same tendency will continue – and someday we won’t have any means to know from where our bread, salad, fruit, meat, fish or chocolate comes from. No thanks, we have the right to know – and to be able to choose.

Everyone (the politicians, media and food producers) know well what’s going on – so please do something about it!

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Occupy Your Age – Old People Are Not a Problem!

A mini demonstration & singing by some brave old people this morning at Lasipalatsi, Helsinki.

Today I met some wonderful old people, who have started a national campaign here in Finland – called Occupy Your Own Age, Valtaa vanhuus.

I attended the press conference of this campaign, launched by 8 big national associations for elder people. They published 5 thesis, composed together, which emphasize the basic rights old people should have. These thesis were especially aimed at local politicians, as we’ll have local elections in Finland in October.

These associations want a total change in Finnish people’s attitudes. In the media, politics and general discussions old people are much too often considered as a problem or a burden to the society, as people who don’t produce anything but fill the hospitals and waste lots of taxpayers’ money with their endless illnesses… Enough!, these elders claim.

In addition, they ask to be respected as individuals. Finland is fast getting old – we already have 1 million people older than 65 years, which means every fifth person. So, typical stereotypes of old people are not valid – despite the age everyone is his or hers own, unique person.

Also one cannot claim that a group of this size is something marginal or can merely been seen in terms of social and health issues. No way. Most old people are just fine. They don’t lie in hospitals waiting to die but have time (and in many cases resources too) to spend on culture, arts, travelling, hobbies… Old people are very active in charity and voluntary work, too.

When planning what old people want, for example in local politics, it’s a good idea to ask the old people themselves. They should not be seen as passive objects but as active members of the society. In brief, mixing generations, both young and old , is very positive – and essential for mutual learning and further development of our society.

We are as old as we feel… Images of Valtaa vanhuus campaign.

Despite all this, old people have to face stupid stereotypes and attitudes – when you get retired, you suddenly convert into something invisible and insignificant in they eyes of society.

One of the elders I met today was Jarmo, ex Executive Director, who explained how horrible it felt that one day he was doing business with millions of euros and the next day he was told to go home and rest. For what?! Suddenly nobody cares about you. “I don’t want to rest. I want to continue doing the same things that I’ve always liked, being active”, he claims.

Another amazing lady I met was Vappu, a feminist and retired child psychiatric, who told that especially old women seem to be the target for stereotypes and criticism – and their sexuality is still a tabu. Younger people add to the negative discourse by saying things like “this is not appropriate to your age.” Nobody should have the right to say so, as we should be free (well, relatively) to live our lives as we want to. Among old people – as among all people – there are clever and stupid ones, nice and unpleasant ones, healthy and sicker ones. And that’s just fine.

The Occupy Your Age campaign will culminate on September 15 in Senaatintori, where they expect more than 2000 supporters, younger and older, from around Finland. The main artist will be Jukka Poika, singing about solidarity between ages. Everyone is very welcome – despite the age. I’ll definitely try to go and add to the good cause. In the end, each one of us will be old one day – if we are lucky…

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