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The first Professor in Food Culture – Helsinki- February 2012

Interview with Pr. Johanna Mäkelä, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Finland
Interview avec Pr. Johanna Mäkelä, 1er professeur en culture de l’alimentation, Université d’Helsinki
Virginie Amilien

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Pr. Johanna Mäkelä is currently working at the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki. Mäkelä was Head of Research at the National Consumer Research Centre until 2011. She has been working on food for more than 20 years, focusing on the sociology of food and consumption, meals, the practices and patterns of eating and how they have changed.

Breaking news - University of Helsinki - 24.11. 2011

Johanna Mäkelä appointed Professor of Food Culture at the University of Helsinki

- Finland's first chair of food culture was founded with donated funds. 

The professorship is the first in Finland, and uncommon all around the 

world.  […]

The new professorship is to take food culture to the same level as other cultural fields in Finland. Even though the significance of food culture is recognised and understood in Finland and food-related education is offered and research is carried out at several colleges and universities, there has been no academic chair to bring all the knowledge and competencies together. The food culture chair is to provide an opportunity for holistic development of the field.”

Announcement for the position of Food Culture Professorship – Quoted from the text.

“The field of the professorship is food culture. The professorship has been established with donated funds and is financed by the support fund for food culture, administered by the University of Helsinki Funds. There are several professorships financed by donated funds but the professorship of food culture is exceptional because its support fund has 50 donors. There are five types of donors. About half of the funding is from foundations and the rest is from public organisations, private companies, private persons, and associations. A group of active fundraisers managed to mobilise a large number of donors. They also established new forms of fundraising like a gala dinner that acted both as a means to raise awareness and attract new donors.”


1Virginie Amilien: Johanna, you are the first Professor in food culture in Finland, and obviously in the Nordic, and even European, countries. As we can read in the description of your position, this emerged from a cooperation between public and private companies: Such a financial support from both university and industry is highly unusual! And it is fascinating. But what is your particular role at University and in your Department?

2Johanna Mäkelä: Officially we can read that “The professor of food culture is responsible for teaching and research in the educational programme of Home Economics. The position focuses especially on the social and cultural dimensions of food choice and food behaviour in Finland. Research duties include deepening the multidisciplinary approach to food culture and leading research projects. The position should promote national and international cooperation and networking in the field of food culture.”

3I feel that my main task is to explore and interpret food cultures. My job consists of four areas that are research, teaching, societal interaction, and administration. At the moment I’m involved in two large research projects. The first one is “Food in Nordic Everyday Life” coordinated my Lotte Holm at the University of Copenhagen and funded by NOS-HS. This project and its predecessor are described in this number of AoFood, in a common article. The second one is “Fatty foods and fat bodies: Diversification of ideals and practices in healthy eating”. The FAT project is funded by the Academy of Finland and it combines perspectives from social and cultural food studies and critical fat studies by focusing on the case of ‘fat’ both in food and in bodies. I am the leader responsible of this consortium that includes researchers from the Finnish National Consumer Research Centre, the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy at University of Jyväskylä and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.

4VA: You have to deal with teaching and research: How do you manage to combine the two perspectives?

5J.M: My research is essential for my second task, teaching, as the Department of Education strongly emphasises research-based teaching. I am in charge of a new multidisciplinary study unit of food culture that is a unique collaboration between three faculties of University of Helsinki and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. 25 students with 11 different majors started this study unit of 25 credits in September 2012. The aim is to deepen the students' understanding of food culture and related phenomena with the help of a multidisciplinary approach.

6The new professorship has stirred a lot of interest in Finland and in other Nordic countries. There are few positions like this in the world. Therefore, my societal interaction during this first year has to a large extent been about introducing this unique position, its background, and my ideas to various stakeholders. It has been a pleasure to realise how widely people have expressed their interest and support. The numerous donators have created a network to turn to.

7VA: Although there is a huge numbers of donors, this position is obviously a political focus area? Is food, and particularly food culture, a priority area in Finland nowadays?

8J. M: There is a lot of debate around food production and consumption and many societal debates crystallise in current discussions and actions around food. Remarkably, the programme of the present government includes, for the first time ever, a section titled “Food Policy”. Food has been recognised as an essential part of the Finnish culture and a legitimate research subject. I have started my job as the professor of food culture in interesting times!

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Electronic reference

Virginie Amilien, « The first Professor in Food Culture – Helsinki- February 2012 », Anthropology of food [Online], S7 | 2012, Online since 22 December 2012, connection on 23 May 2018. URL :

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Virginie Amilien

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Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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