Copenhagen Food System Centre’s work supporting organic development – Interview with Line Rise Nielsen

Our colleagues, Joanna Wierzbicka, Strategic Initiatives Manager, and Bérénice Cau, Project and Fundraising Assistant, met with Line Rise Nielsen, Food Policy Director at Changing Food, to talk about the work of the Copenhagen Food System Centre and what it is doing in terms of organic.

How does the Copenhagen method support organic development?

Copenhagen’s method is one of increasing the quality of food in professional kitchens parallel with an organic conversion – an exercise to be completed within the existing operating budget.

The method has been developed and tested in collaboration with experts and kitchen professionals, and has, among other things, resulted in the City of Copenhagen being the world’s most organic capital with an average at 87%, throughout the city’s 900 kitchens.
It has been applied in several municipalities in Denmark and works throughout a broad range of actors, in small and big kitchens, in kindergartens, schools as well in elderly homes, hospitals, prisons and private professional canteens.

When it comes to the kitchens, they have to go through a major change in the way they prepared their meals with a focus on changing the diets, using less meat and much more and better greens, less and better meat and cook from scratch and reducing food waste.

Working with the principles of this kind of organic conversion, it becomes natural to work with more fresh produce and less convenience, which automatically leads to more creativity and satisfaction for the kitchen staff, and in most cases means less absence and higher efficiency.

The method focuses about mindset, based on how to use your money properly. It is like keeping your house. It’s a mindset that your plate also looks like organic farming (seasonable food, balance between vegetables and meat). You look at who eats – for instance children have different needs than elderly. You eat seasonal and not too much meat. The goal is to turn public kitchens into 90 per cent organic within the same budget.This can be achieved because it starts in the kitchens and lead to educating staff in making food in another way. It is a transition in the way you think about food and the way responsibility is.

In Copenhagen, to measure organic progress, the authorities made organic certification for meals, based on how many kilograms, not money, have been used. As a result, there is a label for kitchens that have minimum 30, 60 or 90 per cent of organic food measured in kilograms. It gives a very clear picture on how much organic food is there.

Berlin wants to apply the same approach, but they do not have adapted labelling. In Berlin, there is one label for 100 per cent organic meals.

What challenges do you see in public procurement in relation to the development of organic?

As the need for an independent organisation was felt, Copenhagen House of Food was created which started counting how many kitchens, how many employees and how much money was spent on food every year. This amount of money is often not known. However, when you know how much your basket is, you know how much power you have to shop.

Public procurement looks at food as a product rather than value. The discussion about food quality is left out even though there is a need to talk about the fact that food is alive and have proper qualities. However, policymakers see food as a range of products that need to be as cheap and involve as much quantity as possible.

But “bigger is better” principle is not healthy for small businesses, the climate, or the environment. Small producers are too small to compete in tenders. If you want a healthy meal, you need to pay more, invest in it. And you will discover that you can get a lot of high-quality vegetables for the price of poor-quality meat. It is like a food economy. You can ask for more quality, if you have knowledge regarding food – and the procurement officers unfortunately do not. So, they need assistance.

The dialogue between policy, sellers and kitchens is the key here. You need to find your locally adapted ways to build it. Developing such approaches involves a lot of work, but it is worth it.

Do you have examples of best practices in mind? Could you say a few words?

2 years ago, the Hospitality school in Copenhagen made a strategy that they wanted to be 90% organic and more sustainable. Because of the argument that the students must have the highest level of culinary quality and the highest knowledge of the connection between the plate and the farmland, the school believes that it is their responsibility to teach the new generation of chefs how a sustainable meal is established.

To that regard, the students need not only be good wholesalers but also good fishermen and butchers, it is more than just organic. The students need to understand the products they are using, how to cut it, understand their freshness and their sustainability. For example, butchers are asked to be present and explain why they have chosen the meat they have sold. For the greens, the amount is that small that it can be local greens and direct agreements can be made. Farmers also come to the schools with their goods and explain how it is produced and how it can be used in a good manner to understand the seasonality.

A new tender is being made, divided in 5 categories: (1) dairy & eggs, (2) basic food, (3) meat, (4) fish, (5) greens. The project is in progress and the contract should start the 1st of August.

What message would you like to pass on to policymakers?

There is a need to have a higher standard. They should try to follow the money regarding meals they are responsible for. And see the food system as complex as IT or engineering – they need experts to assist them to make changes.

This interview is part of the FoodSHIFT project. IFOAM Organics Europe contributes to the conceptual framework for further development of governance strategies and food policy strategies. We will also disseminate project outputs within the organic network and at our main events. 

FoodShift2030 will launch an ambitious, citizen-driven transition of Europe’s food system to a low carbon, circular future. This Horizon 2020 project is promoting food systems innovations in nine cities across Europe. More information about the nine FoodSHIFT Labs is available on the FoodSHIFT2030 website. Follow the project on social media using @FoodSHIFT2030 on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.  

FoodShift2030 has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 862716. This communication only reflects the author’s view. The Research Executive Agency is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.

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