An increasingly popular topic in the Finnish media is food, more precisely, its production and consumption. Local food producers are concerned about lowering trade barriers. So far it has been the government who has taken the responsibility to support local food production against global price competition, but in the long run this situation seems insupportable. As much as half of farmers' income is already some form of subvention, and there are no mechanisms and structures to cope with lower prices.
As the fear of free global trade dominates our agricultural policy and the food industry, the development of local food cultures and new ways of food consumption and distribution get less attention. Food retail in Finland is extremely centralized, there are no effective distribution channels for organic food, Finnish people are economical shoppers, and especially in the countryside, people simply have not learned to respect good food. Still, Fair Trade in Finland is doing extremely well. We thus seem to care more about the coffee farmers in Nicaragua than oak farmers in southwest Finland.
Personally, I believe that fair trade models that work elsewhere, could also work in the local food business. The increasing popularity of fair trade goods indicate that people want to support trade that does not exploit agricultural producers. Our current (increasingly profitable) retail system does exploit the producers, badly. So where are the innovations in this area?
In general it is interesting that although the number of farms in Finland and Sweden are decreasing (it is estimated that in 2017 there will be only 10 000 farms in Sweden), the number of farm-related companies –at least in Sweden –is increasing, thanks to travelling and tourism.
The reason to write about this was a talk I gave this morning on (personal and general) food consumption trends at MTK (The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners in Finland) where I also heard an inspiring talk by Michael Hornborg. As a design and technology researcher I'm in no way expert in this area – despite the fact that designers and technology developers increasingly think about food & energy consumption. In general, Wealth, Health, Self, Work, and Environment seem to be the five main things that currently influence our food consumption habits. In the next few years we are expecting
- increased consumption of organic food
- increased consumption of meat
- increased consumption of fruits and vegetables
- decreased farming area for fruits and vegetables
- more genetically manipulated food
- more eating outside
- more social cooking at home
- cooking skills as status symbol
- more healthy fast food
- more experimental cooking and dining services
- more Japanese knives as Christmas presents
- organic shop-in-shops
- food as fashion
- more professional chefs teaching amateur cooks
- online stores that support local fair trade for food
- more applications that make the production and distribution of food transparent for consumers
- more protests to mass-produced food
- more critique towards package waste
- increased investment in sustainable packaging
- new innovative ways for selling and distributing locally produced food
As to my personal food consumption habits, I'm in a shamefully privileged position: we live next to the best (and the only proper) farmer's market in the center of Helsinki so it is easy to get fresh & tasty ingredients.