My first inkling that Denmark had a difficult relationship with food was during Danish language class in my first few months. There was a chapter about healthy diets that included a food pyramid.
The book was printed in 2003, I checked. Not only was there a food pyramid, but on the bottom floor, the ‘eat as much as you want’ level, there was dairy.
Milk, yoghurt, cheese: go wild. I thought maybe it was a mistake. Language teachers, I reflected, were not nutritionists. So, I went into my school library and checked all the biology books. Even those recently printed had the same advice.
Frightened of fats
The first people I met seemed frightened of fats: both saturated and unsaturated. They had diets almost completely based on starchy carbohydrates, pork and low fat dairy. This diet neatly aligned with the production of food in Denmark, if not what is optimal nutritionally.
Then, after a few years of being here, I noticed those in the bigger cities becoming anxious about processed starches and slightly more accepting of fats.
These anxieties were not even consistent. White bread (or ‘French bread’ as it is known here) was cast as an enemy for being processed, starchy and full of carbohydrates, but processed rye bread, with its ridiculous quantities of salt, sits quietly in a collective blind spot.
Briefly, the government had a tax on ‘fat’, which raised the price of coconut oil and cheese.
Chocolate is evil
These confused messages about food are passed down in a generational version of the Telephone Game. Children are surprised when I tell them they need fat in their diet. They have been convinced by the adults in their lives that it is all bad for them.
Even fat from seeds and fish. I know one dad who happily feeds his daughter bags of jellied candy but flips out if his ex gives her dark chocolate because “it contains fat”.
Of course, children do need to learn how to have a healthy diet. But children learn by doing, and the families who provide a good balance of nutrients are already teaching their children what they need to eat to stay healthy.
No adult ever needs to tell a child that there is something dangerous about white bread or red meat in order to keep them healthy. Telling children there are ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’ can lead to obsessional behaviour in times of poor mental health.
Conditioned by class
Then there is the question of class. Don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone is equal in Denmark. A quick look around the supermarkets tells a different story.
Not everyone can afford to consistently eat fresh vegetables and you often find that you can only get certain ingredients in the posh areas in the big cities.
It is hard to have a balanced diet on a budget in small-town Denmark. The most cost-effective diet in my town is still cheap cuts of meat, potatoes and bread.
And, of course, all the dairy you can eat.