Category Archives: Politics

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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Those Who Stay Home With Kids – Should They Get Paid?

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credit: Motifake.com

Finland is a welfare state, where people have the right to a variety of benefits in different phases of their life. Sounds perfect, and in many cases it is.

But with all these crisis, we have to save and choose. Every time the government has to decide on a new budget, heated debates arise as nobody wants to see their money cut. Well, I guess it’s the same everywhere.

One of this spring’s political debates has been whether it’s ok to pay for moms and dads (well, mostly moms) who stay at home with kids. Some politicians suggested that this benefit (“kotihoidontuki” in Finnish) should be cut. And the storm rose. “The children are the most important thing there is, taking care of the household is hard work” etc.

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Home is the best place for kids, swears Nina Mikkonen, a public person representing the more extremist wing of Finnish housewives. She also announced in a newspaper interview that Kindergartens were a creation of Nazism. Credit: HS.

In Finland you get this benefit for a maximum 3 years, the longest period you can stay at home without losing your permanent job.

However, many economists argue it’s stupid to pay someone for staying home – for years. One expert even commented that women are lazy not going back to work. “You’re welcome to our home for a couple of weeks and see how it is”, a some moms responded.

Some say that staying home too long might be like a prison to women, ruin their career opportunities and even cause poverty. Credit: Taloussanomat.

Surprisingly, one reason for cutting the benefit was gender equality. They say it’s bad for women’s careers’ to stay out for so long. There should be other options like working less hours.

If everyone started to work when their children get 2 years old, this would mean 15 000 more women working. Wow!

Fo me, the question has no right or wrong answers, as every family is different. You should be able to go back to work as soon as you want or stay at home – without being critized in either case. Well, I don’t have kids but I’d certainly like to have these opportunities if I did.

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Thanks to a precedent case, Spanish housewives can now try to get compensation for “their loss” in the court.

How about elsewhere in Europe? I just read an interesting article from Spain, where a lady called Piedad F. was married to Vicente B. for 15 years, she had Master in Law but could never work as she “had to” stay at home for years taking care of their daughter.

The Highest Court decided that the husband has to pay the ex wife 108 000€ for compensation after the divorce – even if there was a marriage settlement. I wonder if there’ll now be more partners demanding “their rights”. Very interesting…

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Being a Refugee in Finland

The last couple of days I’ve been in Seinäjoki, a city about 3 hours’ train trip away from Helsinki. Seinäjoki is the capital of the province of Southern Ostrobothnia, and with a population of 58 000 it’s one of the fastest growing urban centres in Finland. Even if you wouldn’t believe it.

It was my first visit to this town, which seems very small and, sorry to say, ugly. Well, this is nothing “personal” as it happens with most Finnish towns. During the fast urbanization in about 1970s, most of the old pretty houses were torn down and replaced by boring concrete blocks. This destruction is a tragedy for our cultural history.

Anyway, to compensate there is some fine Alvar Aalto architecture. Lakeuden Risti is the symbol of the city.

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The church by Alvar Aalto is the proud of Seinäjoki – with some other building designed by Aalto. Credit: Yle.

It was my first time in Seinäjoki. Sometimes traveling inside your own country is a lot more exotic than going far away. You think you know what you’ll get, but nope: people act different, they speak another dialect etc. Very eye-opening!

Why was I there? At my work we organise events called Markets of Possibilities, which take place around Finland in about 20 cities each year. So we travel to see how they go.

In these events Finnish NGOs tell about their work and offer “exotic” food and program. The aim of is to bring out the multicultural side of Finland and tell the locals what they can do “for a better world”.

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Markets of Possibilites are fun events. Here’s the Choir War in process. Don’t know about the technical quality of the signing, but these ladies were devoted.

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Flashmob by local students. They had also danced in supermarkets etc. Go Seinäjoki!

There, I met there The Refugee Woman of the Year, Malalai Rahim from Afghanistan, as she participated in a panel about refugees’ replacement in Finnish cities. Finland has agreed to receive 750 so called “quota refugees” every year, but the problem is that some municipalities don’t want to have them.

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Malalai Rahim, this amazingly active lady, seems to know everyone in Seinäjoki.

This year, Seinäjoki has promised to receive a group of 20-30 people from Congo, but the neighbouring towns have said “no”. It’s a sad thing, especially as we talk of so small numbers. I think Finland, being a wealthy country, could receive more people. But our country is still very homogenous and people are a bit afraid of “opening the borders”. Even if we’ll definitely need more foreign work force in the future.

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Panel discussion held in Seinäjoki about quota refugees and their replacement. Speakers included a representative of UNHC, vice mayor of Seinäjoki, immigration officer and Malalai Rahim.

Malalai Rahim made a big impression on me. She spoke very good Finnish and her story is amazing. The talebans threatened her life, as she was a woman working as a doctor in Afghanistan, so she had to leave. In Finland, she studied the language and went to the university to get another degree, to be a gynecologist. Now she works in a hospital in Seinäjoki, has 5 children and is actively involved in local politics trying to help newcomers. Me and my colleague, who were just about to complain how tired and stressed we felt, fast shut up.

Malalai made good points about refugees’ integration in Finland. We need to make our social integration program a lot more efficient! It’s not enough to give people a bit of food and money; everyone needs to feel meaningful and get to work, too. Otherwise you stay at home, get isolated with your problems and soon you are not even able to raise your children. I really hope this idea has some impact, coming from the mouth of someone who truly knows what suffering and life as a refugee are about.

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There is already one Congolese family living in Seinäjoki, and in the fall there should be some more quota refugees from Congo arriving. Getting ready for the Finnish winter… Credit: Yle

As a refugee, one should never lose faith and become bitter for what you have to go through. You MUST raise your head and go on. But a little help is needed, and it’s our responsibility to offer it.

Everyone should remember that things can change fast. What if one day we need to leave our country? How would you like to be treated? We have experience about this in Finland, as during The Second World War almost 80 000 children were sent to other Nordic countries as refugees. They were called The Finnish War Children.

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Finnish war Children in Turku. Credit: Wikipedia.

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What is a quota refugee? Within its refugee quota, Finland accepts for resettlement persons defined as refugees by the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and others who are in need of international protection. The refugee quota is verified in the state budget for each year.

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Presidential elections in Finland – the first gay president?

Will he be the new president in 2 weeks...?

Sunday is not one of my favourite days – you can already feel the Monday approaching… So, it’s important to do nice things for yourself.

In the evening, we  (my boyfriend and an old friend visiting us from Stockholm) wanted to follow the counting of the votes of the first round of the Finnish presidential elections. So we went to a bar called Rotterdam and ordered some wine to make it easier… Long story short, if nobody gets more than 50% of the votes there will be a second round between the two most successful candidates in 2 weeks. And this is what happened – so the excitement continues…

The amazingly good (and quite surprising news!) for me and most of my friends was that Mr. Pekka Haavisto, the candidate of the quite small and not-so-significant Green Party (Vihreät) got to the second round.

Pekka is an excellent statesman, clever and considerate etc. but the interesting thing is that he also is openly gay, having an Ecuatorian boyfriend. It would be interesting to get the first gay president for Finland -yesyes, even if the sexual orientation does not matter AT ALL in the decision.

So let’s see what happens in 2 weeks, today the campaigning continues… The “enemy” of Pekka is the candidate of the more conservative National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), Mr. Sauli Niinistö – actually and luckily he happens to be an intelligent and nice guy too, so the situation is not that bad whatever happens…

Check out the article by Huffington Post “Pekka Haavisto, Finnish Gay Presidential Candidate, To Face Off With Former Finance Minister in Race”

And here’s an interview with Pekka in English on Youtube.

And there is plenty of more info on Internet on this, naturally! 🙂

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