This story is written by Kristoffer Torheim, COO at Dagens. He has grown up in Northern Norway, and has spent several years abroad in the UK, France and the US. Obviously, he is above average interested in food. So, now he is working along with the rest of team Dagens out of Oslo, Norway, to create a more transparent and resilient food system. Dagens is building a data driven, full-stack marketplace for local food that facilitates direct trade between producers and food professionals & chefs.
If you Google “food system” — you will get more answers than you can read in a lifetime. However, you can summarise it with just two words: international and complex. Now, if you go back to my grandparents’ generation, about 70 years ago, it was different.
The system was based on local produce and was fairly simple — you ate what you had access to. So, coming from Northern Norway, the diet was fish, meat, root vegetables, with the addition of foraged foods from the wild such as mushrooms and berries.
Today, the Average Joe — or “Ola / Kari Nordmann” as we call it Norway, has access to whatever kind of food, in any seasons — year long. And, he or she does not think of this as a problem. However, I would argue that this is one of the most important things you should care about these days, and here is why.
Having access to (tasteless) tomatoes in January is a great luxury, but it brings some consequences that not everyone necessarily sees or understands. Daily, we get news about climate change — and if you continue down that rabbit hole, a lot of it comes from how we produce — , handle — and trade food.
- CO2 emissions. IPCC estimates that 23% of all human-caused emissions are from our current food system. Usage of fossil fuels in production (pesticides and petrol to run machines) and large greenhouses powered by various fossile fule sources. If you include transportation it accounts for as much as 37% of all our emissions. Once food is produced, it typically travels very long distances before it reaches the consumer.
- Food waste. The traditional food supply chain in the modern world is long and complex. About ⅓ of the food gets wasted somewhere along the supply chain. About 50% of that waste happens before the food even reaches the shop shelves. Approximately 32% is wasted in the production chain, and an additional 23% gets wasted in handling, warehousing and storing of food (BCG, 2018).
- Consolidation of power. What before was decentralised, local and shared between many hands, is now centralised and controlled by a few. In Norway as an example, three actors control about 96% of the traditional grocery market to private consumers. That also means that the few will earn a lot more than the many, giving them unprecedented power. They control which produce to promote, which produce are available in their stores, what messages to send to the consumers, and many more aspects of the industry. (Nielsen, 2019)
- Soil erosion. WWF estimates that we have lost 50% of our topsoil the last 150 years due to modern agriculture. Monoculture, the use of pesticides, and intense food production due to industrialisation and profit maximisation causes us to slowly killing the soil, resulting in desertification and loss of productive topsoil. Soil gives us food — and equally important: it binds carbon!
- Loss of biodiversity. Historically, we have had hundreds of diverse and different types of plants, fruits and vegetables. Now, 90% of the world’s food energy intake (exclusive of meat) comes from the cultivation of 15 plant crops. Rice, maize and wheat comprises ⅔ of this. (UN)
The complexity and size of these problems can be very disheartening — naturally. There is however, a very simple thing that you and I can do. Eat locally produced food. Now, local can mean different things, but in this case it means eating from your region or “climatic” zone.
Why does this matter?
- Less CO2 emissions. When food travels less, it will naturally have lower emissions. Transportation, warehousing, cross-docking are the easiest wins. In terms of food production — by knowing which region your food is from, you can also know more about the production methods used. And, equally important — buy organic or biodynamic who use less pesticides compared to conventional farms.
- Less food waste. A less complex supply chain leads to less food waste. When consumers (both professional and private) can buy directly from the farmer, you also have access to “ugly produce” or second grade produce that the traditional wholesaler will not buy. Also, less time in warehouses and trucks means that the produce has a longer life in your fridge. Win-win!
- More of the cake to the producers. When buying locally — and ideally directly — you give more money to the producers. That gives the producers more money and you also support your local region. This in turn, means that the producers can hire more people, and brings more jobs. More jobs means more spending, and ultimately boosts the local economy. The minimum you must do, is to ensure that what you buy in the supermarket is from your region.
- Help prevent soil erosion. Although this is to some extent a very politically driven problem, you can impact it as well. When buying local — and ideally directly — you can get information about the producer. Do they farm organically, or bio-dynamically? Do they farm organically, but without the certification? Do they have a rotational grazing system for their livestock? Do they use permaculture practices? All these types of regenerative farming methods lead to better soil quality — and you can support it by buying food from exactly these kinds of farms. But you need this information to make the right decision. The industrial food system rarely provides you with that.
- Have an impact on biodiversity. Local, and in particular small-scale farms, tend to produce different types of vegetables to have a more diverse and resilient production. Have you ever found blue congo potatoes, spaghetti squash, or dragon cucumbers in your supermarket? Well, you can find it even in Norway, if you have access to the right producers (or buy through Dagens!).
So, you and I can have an impact on a global problem — locally. This is the heart of what we do at Dagens. Empowering producers, giving them access to local markets, and facilitating information to give the consumers the foundation for making the right choice when buying food. We believe that the world needs a more local and resilient food system, which consequently helps people eat more sustainable and healthy food. And it all starts with what you and I, and business’ spend our money on. So what can you and I do?
- Make sure when you buy food, it is at least from your country or region — especially when buying through your supermarket.
- Buy as much of your food as possible directly from your local farmer, farmers market, REKOs (in Scandinavia) — or any other direct channels.
- Buy seasonal produce. Enjoy the seasons, and you will be a lot more excited about the food that is in your fridge!
- Ask the restaurants, cafes, supermarkets you are visiting / buying from: where is the produce from? How is it produced? If we, the consumers, do not ask — business’ will not tell.
And remember, every penny that you spend is a vote on the future that you want.