Environment Line Gordon is an internationally recognised scientist and professor in Sustainability Science, focusing on water, food and the biosphere. Our Café Head Chef Martin Berg visited her at Stockholm Resilience Centre to talk about the importance of shifting towards more mindful food choices – in our everyday lives and in the food industry at large.
We wanted to know how incorporating scientific knowledge into our food philosophy at ARKET Café can help us promote a better way of eating for our health and the well-being of the planet. This conversation, alongside other stories about why we care so much about food, and delicious recipes from ARKET Cafés, is part of our brand new cookbook that will be released in winter 2021..
Question How does your work connect food and sustainability?
I started out as a biologist and wanted to work with issues that involved both nature and humans. The role of the ecosystems in relation to humans and our welfare quickly leads to questions on farming and cultivation, how we manage our water resources, and our negative impact on the ecosystems, with consequences for society.
Most of my research has involved water, and the part water plays in the ecosystems and our daily lives. 70% of all human water use go straight to food production, so my work became directly connected to what we eat and how that affects our planet and society.
In the process, my work began to shift towards the food systems. It became essential to dig deeper into how to produce high-quality, healthy food in amounts that suffice our needs and support and sustain the environment at the same time. There are numerous exciting solutions, but we need to find ways to cooperate between various scientific disciplines and between science and society to make it happen.
I’m a constantly curious person, eager to find new ways of thinking and doing things. In my profession, it’s triggering to try out and present new ideas, like my directional change from ’fine dining’ and exclusive food experiences to working with more accessible concepts that can impact many people in their everyday lives.
I often felt that something was missing in the general sustainability work. We need people like Line that highlight the question, do the scientific research, and clarify the issues: what must be done, what we need to do more of, and what must stop. After that, my work begins. Based on science, I can focus my knowledge and experience to create products or dishes that are both attractive and meet the demands of the environment and our customers.
Question An ordinary day at work, what does this look like?
We know for a fact that we are alarmingly close to crossing limits of what our planet can handle before it can no longer sustain human societies. We are aware of the consequences of losing our fantastic biodiversity, the overuse of water and the increasing nitrogen and phosphorus loads in our waterways. With that said, there are still so many things we can do to affect and create positive change.
A while ago, I participated in a project that gained a lot of attention. A study called the EAT-Lancet Commission, where we worked closely with a proposal for a more sustainable and healthy diet that is possible to produce within the limits of our planet’s capacity. It resulted in a list of suggestions on how much we should eat from different types of food, from vegetables, fruits and berries to legumes and nuts.
It can be seen as a scientific framework that needs to be put into practice, and it also needs to be translated into meals that taste good.
To me, it’s mainly about curiosity and being open-minded. Meeting new people who work with entirely different things really motivates me. The restaurant business can sometimes be a bit anxious, especially when it comes to individual creativity and ideas. Someone else can always be noticed for an idea that you initially served. Still, you can choose to think about it as a good thing, that you have inspired something that might end up even better and more sustainable.
I believe in this way of working together to drive change. Suppose I’m looking for a specific product for our kitchens. Instead of choosing from the existing supply, I can turn to both scientists and small food suppliers and try to develop a new, noncompromising alternative that lives up to our and our customer’s standards.
Question How is sustainability related to our health?
Today, two billion humans are overweight, which leads to various health conditions and diseases. At the same time, 800 million humans suffer from hunger. By 2050, we will be about ten billion inhabitants coexisting on this planet. How are we going to feed a population of that size when we already have stretched our climate capacity? How can we produce food within the environmental limits in a more sustainable and healthy manner?
These types of questions formed the EAT- Lancet project. Our theory shows that it is possible to combine health and sustainability, but it takes fierce commitment to covert our food production and eating habits. We must eat less animal products, especially red meat and eggs, and more vegetables and legumes. We need to cut down on sugar.
In my work, I use my skills and experience to find new solutions and make healthier products and dishes more appealing. Traditionally, there’s been a lot of focus on the chef as an individual performer, almost like a rock star or an artist who enters the stage and does their thing. It’s been interesting to step over to the more commercial side, trying to reach and connect with as many people as possible to inspire and set a good example.
It’s probably not by creating an advanced all-fermented menu but to find a balance between what tastes good and what does good. That includes the health aspect – it’s not the best idea to eat sweets or pastries every day, but you can treat yourself with them every now and then.