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Nordic Cuisine but National Identities

New Nordic Cuisine” and the gastronationalist projects of Denmark and Sweden
Cuisine scandinave mais identités nationales : la Nouvelle Cuisine Scandinave et les projets gastronationalistes du Danemark et de la Suède
Nicklas Neuman and Jonatan Leer

Abstracts

This article is a cross-national comparison of how food is promoted on tourism websites offering information about Denmark and Sweden – two countries with big national projects targeting the promotion of culinary excellence, following the initiation of “New Nordic Cuisine” (NNC) in 2004. The aim is to study similarities and differences in the projects of these two countries, both quantitatively and qualitatively. 21 out of 33 (approx. 64%) Danish texts referred to a shared Nordic culinary identity, whereas this was only the case in five out of 51 (approx. 10%) of the Swedish texts. Moreover, the qualitative analysis also revealed that “Nordic” cuisine was almost interchangeably connected to Danish cuisine, while in Sweden NNC was more peripheral and culinary excellence was construed as specifically Swedish. We thus criticise the generally accepted idea that NNC is a post-national food movement, seeing it instead as a means to achieve different gastronationalist ends for these two Nordic countries.

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Introduction

1This paper investigates New Nordic Cuisine (henceforth, NNC) as an empirical case to explore a supposedly post-national gastronomic project. The question is simply: when used in practice as a promotional tool to attract tourists, to what extent is NNC a concept which transcends national borders? The aim is to study similarities and differences in the gastronationalist projects of the two countries, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

2Initially, NNC was indeed a collaborative initiative, commenced in 2004 to build an image of, and to promote, Nordic gastronomic excellence internationally while remaining true to what were claimed to be the culinary roots of the countries and regions concerned. At the initial conference in 2004 a manifesto was formulated and signed by a series of chefs from Sweden, Denmark, Greenland, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Finland (Micheelsen, 2013 : 19). Outwardly, at least, the initiative has produced a notion of a collective post-national culinary identity in the region: the idea that there is something that can be referred to as a Nordic cuisine.

3We explore this notion through a cross-national comparison of how food is promoted on websites containing tourist information about Denmark and Sweden – the two countries that have had the widest-ranging national projects promoting culinary excellence following the launch of NNC. The article opens with a brief introduction to NNC and an outline of literature related to the theoretical concept that is the focus of our analysis: gastronationalism (DeSoucey, 2010, 2016). We thus contribute primarily to the literature studying the social and cultural aspects of food and national identity. In particular, through our focus on NNC we challenge suggestions that gastronomy and tourism are moving beyond national boundaries. The introduction is followed by a description of our method, our data collection process and the analytical perspectives of the article. The quantitative comparison shows that 21 out of 33 (approx. 64%) of the Danish texts referred to a shared Nordic culinary identity, whereas this was only the case in five out of 51 (approx. 10%) of the Swedish texts. Following this, the discourse analysis demonstrates how the role of NNC is construed very differently in the two nations. In line with our quantitative findings, it became clear that NNC was first and foremost a Danish construction, driven by Danish actors and with “Nordic” food being almost interchangeably connected with modern Danish food. For Sweden, in contrast, NNC seemed to have been little more than one of many tools to build a greater gastronational vision of “Sweden – the new culinary nation”. In conclusion, we argue that NNC, despite the rhetorically Nordic unity, turned out to be less about a Nordic identity and more about achieving nation-specific ends. In short, this supposedly Nordic cuisine mostly seemed to have been Danish, while in Sweden the food was primarily construed as Swedish, and culinary Nordicness was rarely referred to when Swedish food was promoted.

New Nordic Cuisine and international success

4“No one saw this coming. In the last five years, a new culinary movement has washed through the world’s top kitchens, flowing not from Spain, France or the Mediterranean, but from Copenhagen, Stockholm and points as far north as Lapland” (Moskin, 2011). This is a quote from a 2011 article in the New York Times which underlines the success of NNC in an international perspective as well as the unexpectedness of this success. The birth of NNC is closely related to the manifesto of NNC from 2004, which outlined the principles of the movement and the ambition to create an innovative cuisine based exclusively on using ingredients growing naturally in the Nordic region and strictly following the seasonal changes. NNC was also supposed to “express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate to our region”, to use supposedly forgotten or unrecognised ingredients “whose characteristics are particularly [excellent] in our climates”, while rediscovering, rethinking and promoting Nordic food culture and traditions and living up to modern knowledge about health, animal welfare and “sound production” (Nordic Co-operation, n.d.). The goal was to challenge a century or more of dominance by French cuisine in the gourmet foodscape (Trubek, 2000 ; Ferguson, 2004) and the general acceptance of the pre-eminence of Mediterranean cuisine, which has been considered tastier and healthier than food from the northern parts of Europe. The ambition was to demonstrate that Nordic cuisine could be both as tasty and “every bit as healthy as its Mediterranean counterpart” (Heppenstall, n.d.).

5The flagship of the movement was the restaurant NOMA in Copenhagen, which dogmatically followed the principles of the manifesto. This restaurant was managed by René Redzepi and founded by the Danish food entrepreneur Claus Meyer, who also took the initiative for the manifesto. Copenhagen could be considered the epicenter of the movement (Leer, 2016a), notably when NOMA was elected best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 (Troelsø, 2015). However, the movement also stressed a pan-Nordic unity and a bond within the nations and regions of the Nordic region. It seemed important that the manifesto was signed by chefs from Norway, Sweden and the Faroe Islands, and all these countries have Michelin-starred restaurants based on the principles of NNC.

6Furthermore, when the concept of NNC was launched there was a degree of political interest in developing NNC as a Nordic project: the Nordic Council of Ministers allocated DKK 25 million to advance the project in the period 2005-2007. In an article co-authored by Claus Meyer on how to base an everyday cuisine on the principles of the manifesto, a new Nordic diet, the similarities between the Nordic regions are also highlighted much more than the regional differences in this vast territory: “In the Nordic countries the population has reasonable access to large quantities of foods from the wild countryside, e.g. plants, mushrooms, berries, fruits and meat” (Mithril et al., 2012).

7So NNC is a narrative about a series of local terroirs, but it is also a collective narrative aimed at showing the world that the region has great gastronomic potential. And it appears that this idea of an innovative culinary movement across the Nordic region has been accepted in the global food discourse. For instance, this is illustrated by the quote at the beginning of this section, by René Redzepi’s appearance in Time Magazine (Leer, 2016b : 73) and the Washington Post (Carman, 2013), and by the appearance of Claus Meyer in The Telegraph (Henry, 2016). This would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. The Michelin Guide has also showed increasing interest in the Nordic countries with the development of a separate guide for gourmet dining in the region, motivated by recognition of NNC. On a website devoted to Nordic food, hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the following quote can be found: “Over the last decade, there has been a resurgence in Nordic food culture not only in our homes, but Nordic cuisine has started to make its mark internationally as well. Consequently it can be said that in the formation of the New Nordic Food programme in 2005, the Nordic governments have succeeded in their aim of raising awareness of Nordic cuisine and putting the region on the gastronomic world map. The programme expands on the Nordic Kitchen manifesto, which was signed in 2004 by 12 visionary chefs. It promotes our common food culture and builds on the qualities of our region; pure, simple, and safe food, produced to a high ethical standard. The focus areas of the third period are; food in the public sector, Nordic food award, tourism, and branding”. (Nordic Council of Ministers, n.d.)

8This quote suggests a Nordic food culture and a Nordic identity of food, created by leading chefs in the region. But this is not only about food itself; the project is also a case in which gastronomy and tourism meet. It is through the culinary excellence of the region – rhetorically construed as one – that people from all over the world will come to visit and (although this is not stated explicitly) spend money, thus stimulating economic growth. So NNC seems to have placed the entire region on the global map of culinary tourism.

9In order to understand the different constructions of NNC theoretically, our analytical focus is driven by the concept of gastronationalism (DeSoucey, 2010, 2016), which underlines how food can be used to create national myths and underscore the grandeur and uniqueness of a nation. DeSoucey unfolds the term through the example of the French specialty foie gras (the liver of force-fed geese and ducks), explaining in particular how France has worked hard within the European Union to protect the production and consumption of this controversial food item. DeSoucey (quoted in Müller, 2015 : 50) argues that such initiatives lead to the unification of patriotic discourse and economic protectionism: “action in the market and patriotism become one and the same”. Since then, the concept of gastronationalism has been used to describe various kinds of nationalist food practices. Hirsch and Tene (2013) examine how hummus has gone from being an Arabic dish to being taken over by Israeli discourse on national identity. Müller (2015) examines the bond between nationalism and agro-politics in contemporary South Korea. Wright and Annes (2013) use gastronationalism to analyse how the media coverage of halal fast food stigmatises people who eat halal in France and to define “who gets to claim French citizenship” (Wright and Annes, 2013 : 389). Furthermore, in addition to research that explicitly engages with the concept of gastronationalism, a great deal of research has analysed the role of food in the construction of national identities in different parts of the world (Appadurai, 1988 ; Pilcher, 1996 ; Trubek, 2000 ; Ferguson, 2004 ; Bak-Geller Corona, 2008 ; Warde, 2009 ; Neuman, 2017).

10Last but not least, NNC has received some scholarly attention in recent years, especially regarding the genealogy of the movement (Tholstrup Hermansen, 2012 ; Bergflødt et al., 2013 ; Byrkjeflot et al., 2013 ; Jönsson, 2013 ; Leer, 2016a). Several studies have accentuated the movement’s use of the concept of terroir to highlight the specificity of the Nordic region (Larsen and Österlund-Pötzsch, 2013) and to create a post-nationalist, Nordic movement (Tholstrup Hermansen, 2012). Others have been more critical, questioning the ideological framing of Nordic whiteness as superior (Andreassen, 2014) as well as the elite character of the project (Micheelsen et al., 2013).

11In this paper, we use the concept of gastronationalism to critically analyse how food is utilised as a national promotion strategy. We examine similarities and differences in the gastronationalist projects of the two countries, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to see how food is used to create national narratives to attract tourists from around the world. These gastronational promotional strategies are part of a global and regional competition with the long-term purpose of profit and economic growth. Tourism and gastronomy are thus understood as ways to achieve national ends, with certain characteristics of nations and regions being promoted while others are silenced.

Method and data

Collection of data

12The methodological approach of this study is inspired primarily by Johnston and Baumann (2007), who studied gourmet food magazines in the USA. Their analysis was built on two parts: one close reading of the texts in order to identify discursive strategies, and one quantitative content analysis to demonstrate the prevalence of the different discursive strategies. Another study from which we have taken inspiration is Alan Warde’s Consumption, Food, and Taste: Culinary Antinomies and Commodity Culture (1997). This book also contains a quantitative content analysis of British women’s magazines (in 1968 and 1992) combined with a further qualitative analysis of what Warde identifies as four antinomies of taste: novelty and tradition, health and indulgence, economy and extravagance and care and convenience.

13Our approach is similar to both, but not identical. What we have been inspired by is the approach of first describing the quantitative patterns of the whole data in order to follow up this description by and in-depth qualitative analysis. As such, both support each other, with a general picture about the extent of similarities and differences followed by an analysis of how these are produced discursively. In terms of differences we have, first of all, not conducted a quantitative content analysis but a descriptive quantitative comparison to catch a glimpse of how common it is for Danish and Swedish texts to refer to a collective Nordic culinary identity (referring to Nordic cuisine, gastronomy, diet, movement, etc.). Moreover, moving beyond quantitative differences in how frequently a Nordic culinary identity was referred to, we also analysed how this was construed discursively in the different countries. That is, how NNC was used as a gastronationalist strategy and what purpose the general notion of a Nordic culinary identity seemed to serve for the two different countries.

14Our analyses are based on texts collected from the countries’ official information websites. The arguments for the choice of websites are (1) that they partly target potential tourists, thus becoming sites where gastronomy and tourism meet, and (2) that they are comparable cross-nationally. The websites were www.visitdenmark.com (Denmark’s official tourism site), www.denmark.dk (the official website of Denmark, edited by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs), www.visitsweden.com (the country’s official website for travel information and tourism), www.sweden.se (the official site of Sweden, administered by the Swedish Institute), and http://tryswedish.com (a specific site devoted to Swedish food and drink, hosted by Visit Sweden). Our collection of texts was an inductive process of starting out with broad searches for texts about food on the websites, and then narrowing down and adjusting search terms and criteria.

15At first we simply looked for all entries that had to do with food. It was immediately obvious that this would amount to an insurmountable number of texts, especially from Visit Denmark, where the search for “Food” resulted in 1204 entries. We therefore narrowed down our search to pages that only explicitly referred to food that was claimed to be specific for countries or regions (such as the Nordic region, particularly Swedish/Danish regions or cities/towns). This meant that texts on beverages, specific restaurants or hotels, the promotion of specific public events (markets, festivals, etc.), traditions (Christmas, Midsummer, Easter, etc.) and other social activities involving food were left out (unless the text referred specifically to foods related to this event, for example “Danish Christmas food” from Visit Denmark or “Midweek dinner” from Sweden.se). However, articles promoting several of these things at the same time, for instance articles devoted to the Copenhagen food scene or modern Swedish gastronomy in general, were included. The material is thus by no means all-encompassing. However, our purpose was only to collect sufficient data to enable a cross-national comparison of gastronationalist projects from two countries – Denmark and Sweden – involved in NNC, not to analyse every single text remotely connected to food on the websites.

16In addition to narrowing down the search terms and inclusion criteria, we followed the suggestion presented by Lincoln and Guba (1985) that researchers should continue to collect and analyse data until the point of redundancy, i.e. when new data adds no new information to the research questions, and then a little more “for safety” (Lincoln and Guba, 1985 : 221). Redundancy sampling is usually discussed in relation to ethnographic fieldwork and interviews (Patton, 2015), but there is nothing in the redundancy principle that makes it inapplicable to collections of texts online. There are, nevertheless, some problems related to the principle of redundancy, especially the risk of it being interpreted as if all new data would be useless or that nothing that contradicts the analysis thus far can ever appear. This is not what we mean by the term, however. We acknowledge the possibility that relevant texts have been missed. Our definition of reaching redundancy was when our searches, following verification strategies to ensure scientific rigor (Morse et al., 2002), resulted in the same texts reappearing again and again, with both authors agreeing that identified patterns in the data were emerging repeatedly and that the material was rich enough in terms of both similarities in the patterns and deviations and contradictions. Last but not least, as shown in our quantitative comparison below, the results are quite clear-cut in terms of which country promoted NNC the strongest, and this is also something that strengthens our arguments from the qualitative analysis.

Analysis of data

17For the quantitative part, we looked through the texts for references to some form of Nordic (or Scandinavian) collective food identity. Texts were marked with an “X” if they referred explicitly to either. For example, “The rise of New Nordic” (a subheading in “The renaissance of the open sandwich” from Denmark.dk), “Michelin-starred establishments serving the best in modern Nordic cuisine” (quoted in “A foodie’s guide to Aarhus” from Visit Denmark) or a “prominent feature of the New Nordic movement” (quoted in “Swedish cooking: pushing the limits” from Try Swedish). Alternatively, texts were marked if they were less explicit. Examples are “sausages in a Nordic cuisine fashion” (quoted in “The hot dog stand: Feeding hungry Danes for more than 90 years” from Denmark.dk) or “[t]he vitality of Nordic gastronomy manifests itself in many different ways” (quoted in “Sweden: Rich in its history, confident in its future” from Visit Sweden). Texts in which “Nordic” was mentioned in some way but without being marked with an “X” were judged to be unrelated to a collective identity, referring simply to the geographical origin of a specific food or drink. For example, “Starters” and “Main Courses” from Denmark.dk both explicitly mentioned that the main courses and starters were Nordic, rather than Danish. Furthermore, the text “Michelin bolsters Copenhagen’s position as gastronomy capital of Northern Europe” specifically referred to “Nordic temptations” and to a “Nordic focus” of their food, but not to a collective Nordic kitchen/cuisine/movement/etc. The results of this analysis are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

18The qualitative analysis is best described as being inspired by Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 1992). We say inspired, because we did not search through the texts to identify specific linguistic devices described by Fairclough. However, the analysis was based on his assumptions that each discursive event (such as the act of talking or writing a text) is simultaneously a text and a social and discursive practice. Furthermore, each text is analysed in relation to other texts (intertextuality), other genres and discourses (interdiscursivity) and hegemony (“commonsensical” political dominance upheld through the consent of the majority). For instance, in this paper intertextuality could mean the relationship to the NNC manifesto or to reports from a previous Swedish government about their vision for “Sweden – the new culinary nation” (Neuman, 2017). Interdiscursivity could also refer to the relationship to other genres, such as cookbooks and other discourses about how to promote a nation in order to attract tourists. Hegemony could, for example, be the taken-for-grantedness of gastronomy “as a legitimiser of [culinary] quality” (Neuman and Fjellström, 2014: 281) or culinary tourism as a means of economic growth.

19Concretely, the process of our analysis was in four steps. First, we conducted in-depth, separate analyses of all the texts in the entire corpus with a particular attention to expressions of national and Nordic identity. Second, the patterns in the constructions of Nordicness and nationality were subsequently discussed by the authors and compared with the quantitative comparison. Third, the dataset was thus revised and re-analyzed to check and elaborate on the findings. Fourth and finally, the main findings of the analysis were contextualised in relation to other genres, discourses and the contemporary (food) political landscape in the two countries. The findings are presented in the following.

Findings

Nordic, Danish or Swedish? A quantitative comparison

20We begin our findings section with the quantitative comparison. As seen below in Table 1 and Table 2, we ended up with 33 Danish texts and 51 Swedish texts. It should be mentioned, however, that the Danish texts tended to be longer, and that many of the Swedish texts, especially from Sweden.se, included no more than a short description of a food/dish and perhaps a recipe. We found references to a collective Nordic culinary identity in 21 of the Danish texts and in five of the Swedish texts. This means that the proportion of texts in which this was mentioned was about 64 per cent in the Danish text sample and about ten per cent in the Swedish.

Table 1. Information about website, title of the analysed text and whether or not a specifically Nordic cuisine, kitchen, movement, or any other term that suggests a Nordic culinary collective is mentioned in the specific text.

Table 1. Information about website, title of the analysed text and whether or not a specifically Nordic cuisine, kitchen, movement, or any other term that suggests a Nordic culinary collective is mentioned in the specific text.

Table 2. Information about website, title of the analysed text and whether or not a specifically Nordic cuisine, kitchen, movement, or any other term that suggests a Nordic culinary collective is mentioned in the specific text.

Website

Title of analysed text

Ref.a

Sweden.se

10 things to know about Swedish food

 

Sweden.se

Breakfast

 

Sweden.se

Cinnamon buns

 

Sweden.se

Dinner Party

 

Sweden.se

Fika

 

Sweden.se

Gravlax

Sweden.se

Grill party

 

Sweden.se

Jansson’s temptation

Sweden.se

Kroppkakor

 

Sweden.se

Lunch

 

Sweden.se

Midweek dinner

 

Sweden.se

Outdoor eating

 

Sweden.se

Raggmunk

 

Sweden.se

Saffransbullar and pepparkakor

 

Sweden.se

Swedish meatballs

 

Sweden.se

The crayfish party

 

Sweden.se

The semla – more than just a bun

 

Sweden.se

The social kitchen

 

Sweden.se

The sour herring premiere

 

Sweden.se

Toast Skagen

 

Try Swedish

A modern take on the Swedish classics

 

Try Swedish

A natural craving for organic

 

Try Swedish

A Swedish Christmas table primer: What to eat and where to find it

 

Try Swedish

Bread for the future, based in the past

 

Try Swedish

Eat like a Swede

X

Try Swedish

Farm to table comes full circle

 

Try Swedish

Fika with us

 

Try Swedish

Food matters in Sweden

 

Try Swedish

From the ocean to your plate

 

Try Swedish

How to make your own Midsummer magic

 

Try Swedish

Local steps toward a smaller global footprint

 

Try Swedish

Potato primer

 

Try Swedish

Schooled in food

 

Try Swedish

Season premier for Swedish produce

 

Try Swedish

Step aside Parma, behold the cheese king of the north

 

Try Swedish

Sweden: The time has come

 

Try Swedish

Swedish cooking: Pushing the limits

X

Try Swedish

The catch at summer’s end

 

Try Swedish

The country’s best establishments at your fingertips

X

Try Swedish

The secret breakfast lives of Swedes

 

Try Swedish

The ski report: a guide to refueling on the slopes

 

Try Swedish

Why the world’s best chefs are coming to Stockholm

 

Try Swedish

Wild food, I think I love you

 

Visit Sweden

Fermented herring

 

Visit Sweden

Fika: The Swedish art of having a coffee and cake

 

Visit Sweden

Food and drink in Gothenburg

 

Visit Sweden

Food and drink in Stockholm

X

Visit Sweden

Food and drink in Malmö

 

Visit Sweden

Sweden: A new culinary destination

Visit Sweden

Sweden: Rich in its history, confident in its future

X

Visit Sweden

What’s cooking in Skåne?

 

Total

51

5

If the text refers to a specifically Nordic cuisine, kitchen, movement or any other term that suggests a Nordic culinary collective, the row is marked with an “X”.

21Another thing that might catch the eye of the person scrutinising the tables comparatively is the fact that none of the Swedish texts mentioned anything about NNC, the Nordic region or Scandinavia in their titles. After having noticed this, we actively tried to find anything on Swedish tourist pages, using the search term “new nordic cuisine Sweden” on Google, finding a one-sentence long text on Visit Stockholm’s website with “New-Nordic cuisine” as the title. The sentence states that “Stockholm's most noted restaurants of recent years have one concept in common: Scandinavian culinary tradition in an innovative version, carefully selected ingredients and a focus on locally produced, organic foods” (Visit Stockholm, n.d.). This page leads on to more information about particular Stockholm restaurants, a few of which specifically mention something about offering Nordic/Scandinavian cuisines or flavours. However, this website promotes Stockholm in particular, not Sweden in general, and despite this deviation from our criteria, it was the only example we found. So even though we collected fewer Danish than Swedish texts, and despite actively searching for stories about NNC in Sweden (even though we went beyond our search criteria), it is unambiguously clear that references to a Nordic culinary identity, by way of promoting this concept to the food-interested tourist, is more common in the Danish sample.

22To summarise, by simply quantifying how often NNC is given particular priority in texts and is referred to when national culinary excellence is promoted, one gets a good indication that NNC plays a more central role in the promotion of Danish food than in the promotion of Swedish food. However, we must not settle for this quantitative difference, but must ask how NNC is used discursively in the two different countries and try to explain why this is so.

Danish is Nordic, Nordic is Danish…

23In line with the quantitative comparison, the qualitative analysis of the Danish material also suggested a strong focus on NNC. Let us begin with the most obvious example of how Danishness and Nordicness are closely connected. The page on Visit Denmark entitled “New Nordic Cuisine” claims that “the essence of New Nordic cuisine” is “a sustainable, healthy and delicious trend that has taken Scandinavia by storm”. In that sense, it is a shared Scandinavian project, although “Danish chefs are leading the way”. But the text then becomes much more focused on Denmark: “New Nordic Cuisine is quite literally about going back to the roots of Danish cooking. It’s about getting out into the Danish landscape to forage for the best and most unusual ingredients. It’s about experimenting and presenting exciting new ways of combining traditional ingredients. And of course, it’s all about giving you the best taste and dining experience possible.”

24And it continues under the subtitle “Nordic delicacies”: “You can savour the best New Nordic kitchens in a number of Danish restaurants. Delicacies such as Nordic langoustine, wild salmon, seaweed, foraged berries and muskox may all be on your menu. You may try recipes from as far back as Viking times. Just make sure you book a table, as the whole world now craves Denmark’s gourmet treasures.”

25The fact that the page devoted to NNC talks about NNC is no surprise, but it is remarkable that the terms “Danish” and “Nordic” almost seem to be interchangeable: Nordic delicacies, Danish restaurants, Danish roots, Danish landscape, Nordic langoustine and New Nordic kitchens. Danish and Nordic are almost synonymous. In other words, the Danish texts do not only refer more frequently to a culinary Nordicness, as shown in the quantitative comparison. A closer look at the texts also demonstrates the close discursive interconnectedness of Danishness and Nordicness.

26This interconnectedness between the Nordic and the Danish is a reoccurring phenomenon. For example, a text whose title might suggest a much more Denmark-focused and less NNC-focused story, “Gastronomic Denmark” (from Visit Denmark), writes about “a culinary revolution originating in Denmark” during the last decade. This revolution is NNC, and NNC “has taken us all by storm with René Redzepi’s Noma repeatedly being Number One on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants.” The point about NOMA being the epicentre of the revolution is repeated numerous times, but the article also stresses that: “There is no need to get on a waiting list to experience what’s (literally) on everyone’s lips. Everywhere in Denmark, foodies can expect to be blown away by the next generation of Danish chefs and their quest for new, local recipes to delight us. Not to mention the more traditional classics experiencing a real revival. A good example is the traditional Danish lunch “smørrebrød”'; a delicately garnished open sandwich on dark rye bread, which is available in every city all over Denmark (oh and recently also on Manhattan, in London and in Tokyo. We told you; it’s a revolution).”

  • 1 Also articulated in “Food and drink” where NNC is closely associated to national Danish cuisine: “U (...)
  • 2 “Denmark Awarded More Michelin Stars.”
  • 3 René Redzepi is particularly framed as the frontrunner of New Nordic Cuisine with to profiles in th (...)

27Describing NNC as a revolution is a persistent trope in the Danish material1. This narrative also conveys a specific mapping of NNC’s geographical expansion. NNC started at NOMA and inspired the entire Copenhagen restaurant scene before spreading to the rest of the country. Several articles mention the many upcoming and NNC-inspired culinary experiences in the provinces of Denmark, notably Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark and elected European Region of Gastronomy 20172. Furthermore, the movement has spread beyond Denmark to Scandinavia and the rest of the world. The “From NOMA to the world” narrative places the upsurge of “the revolution” in an urban space (NOMA/Copenhagen) and ascribes the initiative to inspirational individuals (René Redzepi and Claus Meyer)3. This contradicts the foundational narrative of NNC as a collective regional movement, an idea that was promoted continually in the manifesto, most notably in the first paragraph: “To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics associated to our region”. The same idea is also underlined by the collective Nordic “our” in the third paragraph: “To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly excellent in our climates, landscapes and waters” (Nordic Co-operation, n.d.).

28In the above quotes, the role of the other Scandinavian countries in NNC is completely absent. Furthermore, the inspiration is described as a one-way line of communication from NOMA and Copenhagen to the global food community: “Nordic Cuisine has been on a heart-pounding rollercoaster journey over the past decade and today Denmark is among the World’s most innovative and exciting in the field of gastronomy” (“The taste of original Nordic food”, Visit Denmark). Here again, the Nordic revolution underlines the superiority and recognition of Denmark’s food culture globally and internally in the Scandinavian region.

29The Danish material also contains various negotiations of Danishness and Nordicness. The narratives of the advanced and revolutionary gastronomy of NNC are counter-balanced by culinary narratives rooted in Danish popular culture, notably the iconic hot-dog stands where you find “all types of Danes.” This type of food is described as a “deliciously different” experience and as “[f]ar from gastronomy” (“The Danish hot dog stand”, Visit Denmark). This traditional, meaty (and not very healthy) Danish working-class food product offers (in the material’s presentation of it) the antimodel to NNC. The hot-dog stand is proposed as a potential (and sinful) “break” for the foodie tourists exploring the Copenhagen NNC foodscape. The articles on such traditional fast foods (Danish pastry is another example) are exclusively described as Danish, not New Nordic, as if the “pure” Danishness is a contradiction to high gastronomy: still pleasurable and worth a try for a tourist interested in culinary experiences, but not a celebrated gastronomic treasure.

30Thus, the negotiation of Danishness and Nordicness seems to be associated with distinct registers of dining which are closely related to class (Bourdieu, 1984 ; Warde, 1997 ; Johnston and Bauman, 2007). While innovative, experimental and healthy food in cutting-edge, high-end restaurants connects New Nordic with Denmark, the traditional working-class food of poor nutritional composition like hot dogs and pastries is solely framed as Danish and out of touch with modern norms for “good taste”. This echoes Claus Meyer’s central considerations when he developed the idea of NNC. Initially, Meyer was primarily concerned with the evolution of Danish food culture (Leer, 2016a). However, the concept of Danish food had poor symbolic value in a culinary context, as Meyer (quoted in Byrkjeflot et al., 2013 : 45) explains: “the Danish food brand was polluted … when you say Nordic food … [it was a] brand that was free, open space [allowing to] define what it is”. So “Nordic” was a better brand to redefine the Danish food culture and elevate it to the stage of fine dining. In the data, this distinction reappears: when Danish stands alone, it is in relation to working-class food. However, when Danish is combined with New Nordic, it is elite gastronomy. In the overall picture, however, the latter dominates. The articles on hot dogs and Danish pastry are few in number, and the hot-dog stand is presented as a camp reminiscence of the pre-NNC era in Denmark. The hot-dog stand is a historical curiosity that frames and accentuates the revolution of NNC in the culinary portrait of Denmark. Nevertheless, not even the hot-dog stand is completely untouched by the supposed culinary revolution, as one article notes in its concluding remark: “But even in the hot dog business, new ideas are spreading. In 2009, the first organic hot dog stand opened in Copenhagen. Rethinking the concept of sausages and fast food, the new hot dog stand serves sausages in a Nordic cuisine fashion” (“The hot dog stand: Feeding hungry Danes for more than 90 years”, Denmark.dk).

31In sum, Danishness and Nordicness seemed more or less indistinguishable in the culinary promotion, and the only time something was celebrated as “purely” Danish, it was as a negation to the high-end cuisine of NNC. Overall, rarely did the “traditional” meet the new and gastronomically sophisticated. As we will demonstrate in the following, the picture is very different in the Swedish material.

... and Swedish is Swedish

32As demonstrated in the quantitative comparison, the Danish texts more often referred to a Nordic collective culinary identity. And as shown above, the Danish rhetoric actively embraces NNC. However, when a Swedish text did refer to this collective culinary identity, what seemed to be its central function in the Swedish gastronomic promotion?

33In a text from Visit Sweden with the title “Sweden: A new culinary destination”, the writer addresses the audience by saying that “a few years ago we decided that we wanted to become a new culinary destination – by improving the quality of our food and food travel experiences across the board – for you.” The text promises “food and world-class food experiences” to the visitors to the country, who are also invited to “join the culinary revolution in the restaurants, bars and cafés of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.” This text, the primary one about Sweden as a gastronomic tourist attraction on the official website for travel information and tourism, does not even mention the words “Nordic” or “Scandinavia(n)”, and the message thus constitutes a stark contrast to the promotion of Danish culinary excellence and the food scenes of Copenhagen and other cities. The insistence on something “new” also makes it appear as if Sweden as a culinary destination for tourists was never part of NNC. It is relevant here to keep in mind that NNC had clear claims about culinary tourism ambitions from the outset, and still has. Nonetheless, despite being part of a regional culinary project since 2004, something new and specifically Swedish is promoted here.

34However, in another text on the same site, “Sweden: Rich in its history, confident in its future”, we are told that Nordic gastronomy is now “the very focus of attention for the international food media. Sweden, along with the other Nordic countries, offers a refuge of clean, unspoiled nature, as well as the taste of contemporary exoticism.” The rhetoric of the purity of Nordic cuisine is evident and suggested as something that all the countries in the region share. However, Sweden’s particular geography is drawn upon to distinguish the country from the others. This geographical exclusivity is claimed to be one of the reasons for the culinary excellence, with Sweden being a long country covering several climate zones, thus “allowing for a rich diversity of flora, fauna and traditions – and exceptional foraging.” The appeal to geographical advantages is very common in the promotion of Swedish culinary excellence throughout the material, and inevitably means that Sweden is something that Denmark, approximately one-tenth of Sweden’s geographical size, is not.

35Thus, whereas Denmark drew a great deal on the culinary scenes of the cities – especially Copenhagen as “the gastro capital of Scandinavia” (“Copenhagen: The gastro capital of Scandinavia”, Denmark.dk) and “Scandinavia’s gourmet food capital” (“Danish food”, Visit Denmark) – in addition to the stardom of NOMA – Sweden drew more on their nature and produce.

36Another example, “Eat like a Swede” from Try Swedish, demonstrates the ambiguous relationship between the Swedish and the Nordic: “Over the last 50 years, much attention has been given to the Mediterranean diet, but what of the Nordic diet?” the reader is asked. “Researchers at the Nordic Centre of Excellence have found that several Nordic ingredients are responsible for improving health, lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease.” This is a discussion of something seen as collectively Nordic, but rather than being a claim for a joint Nordic food culture it is an attempt to state a fact (we did not mark this text with an “X” in the quantitative analysis). And from here, the text is all about Sweden and foods which are claimed to be Swedish, listing ten that are allegedly particularly healthy. Furthermore, Try Swedish admits that “[t]o understand today’s Swedish gastronomy it’s important to figure out what is common Nordic ground, and what is uniquely Swedish”. This is followed by a description of NNC and a text about how the particular Swedish identity is part of the Nordic project, and even more about how it is distinguished from the other countries, again referring to Sweden’s “vast geographical reach – roughly covering the same distance as continental Europe from Denmark to the Mediterranean”, but also to methods of preservation acquired because of the long and cold winters.

37It is thus clear that NNC is not only mentioned in the Swedish material, but also recognised as important. However, the main difference in comparison to Denmark is perhaps best summed up in a quote that follows a description of how modern technological innovations in farming practices meant that “the old survival fare and many preservation traditions sunk into oblivion”. Whereas it is claimed that “the local folk gastronomy” has been lost through the rationalisation of modernity, the quote claims that “[t]he New Nordic wave brought all this back into focus. If you’re not looking for nourishment, but for taste, this was paradise lost. Today, foraging is not a driver for sustenance – but for flavor and texture. The same motive applies to reapplying old preservation techniques” (“Swedish cooking: Pushing the limits”, Try Swedish).

38What we see in this quote, and it is something that we found elsewhere, is that NNC is often treated as a spark that ignited a selectively Swedish gastronationalist project. We thus argue that the central function of NNC in the Swedish material involves being a resource to draw upon when this is advantageous for the image of national culinary excellence, but does not involve being a collective identity.

39As demonstrated above, the image of something uniquely and collectively Nordic or Scandinavian was a resource for the Danes, both through the focus on NOMA – the flagship – and also in relation to what was considered a less flattering idea of Danish food (cf. Leer, 2016a). But NOMA is not a Swedish restaurant, Claus Meyer and René Redzepi are not Swedes and Copenhagen is not a Swedish city. So in the light of the fact that these three pillars of NNC – the leading restaurant, the embodied symbols of the programme and the proclaimed capital city – are all Danish, it should not come as a surprise that the culinary promotion of Sweden is vague in its relation to NNC: promoting NNC with full force would inevitably mean promoting Sweden’s competing neighbour. Obviously, Sweden wanted to promote itself, its Swedishness rather than its Nordicness, as gastronomically excellent (Neuman, 2016, 2017). Moreover, given the narrative “From NOMA to the world”, which we discussed in the previous section, a Swedish promotion of NNC equivalent to the Danish version would mean implicitly acknowledging a legacy from Sweden’s little brother in the southwest. There are thus both symbolic incentives of prestige (the status of culinary excellence) and strictly economic incentives (the competition for revenue) for Sweden to promote the Swedish image rather than the Nordic image.

40Moreover, in 2008, a vision called “Sweden – the new culinary nation” was launched, driven by the centre-right government in power at the time, and in particular by Eskil Erlandsson, who was minister for agriculture (and later minister for rural affairs). In one of the early promotional texts it is mentioned that the Swedish government, in collaboration with other Nordic governments, “is supporting the Ny Nordisk Mat [NNC] project. The purpose of the venture is to promote Nordic food and food culture. The programme will connect Nordic values in several areas, for example gastronomy, tourism, regional development and healthy food habits” (Ministry of Agriculture, 2008: 6, our translation). Once again NNC is recognised as legitimate and important, but only as a project that is supported by the government’s goal of promoting Swedish food. The text moves on to mention the Baltic Culinary Route as a good example of a project connecting tourism to food experiences and working towards a regional culinary identity, and it mentions the “intensive work” done by government offices aimed at creating a strategy for rural development.

41In short, NNC is one of several projects that are highlighted and deemed relevant. But its importance fades compared to the gastronationalist rhetoric of Sweden itself. So through NNC, and after the manifesto to which Swedish chefs contributed, Sweden as a self-proclaimed culinary nation went its own way. Put concisely: whereas Danish culinary excellence is promoted as NNC, Swedish culinary excellence is promoted with the help of NNC.

Conclusion

42This paper is by no means the first to discuss NNC (Tholstrup Hermansen, 2012 ; Bergflødt et al., 2013 ; Byrkjeflot et al., 2013 ; Jönsson, 2013 ; Leer, 2016a), but it is the first, at least to our knowledge, to empirically challenge its most central tenet: that of a gastronomic Nordic unity. In his exploration of the regional identity of NNC, Tholstrup Hermansen (2012) argues that terroir acts as a pseudo-geographical concept that allows for a transnational interpretation of a coherent Nordic identity: the Nordic folk.” Moreover, NNC is described as a “post-national movement, especially because it reproduces a Nordic imagined community based on the (re)creation of a Nordic cuisine that takes its meaning from the production of locality, in the form of the Nordic terroir.” Whereas this shared identity might have been the ambition of actors involved in NNC, our data suggests that, in practice, NNC served the opposite function: of “Nordic” as a means to specific gastronationalist ends.

43We initially asked: to what extent is NNC a concept which transcends national borders when used as a promotional tool on Danish and Swedish tourist websites? The answer to this question seems to be that NNC does not cross borders very well at all. This lack of a post-nationalist culinary identity in Scandinavia might be explained by the fact that the economic structures in the promotion strategies are situated in national contexts and national markets, as clearly expressed in the vision of “Sweden – New Culinary Nation”. The key is to distinguish between the symbolic and the material level of the texts analysed. On the Danish tourist sites especially, Nordicness was used at a symbolic level, but the texts nonetheless exclusively referred to and promoted Danish restaurants, chefs, localities, traditions, etc. So the national focus of the data contrasts with the symbolic narrative of a border-crossing regionality. Thus, we argue that scholars of gastronationalism must take into account nation-specific political incentives when analysing what, at a symbolic level, might at first appear to be culinary movements that transcend national borders. All things considered, the gastronomically interested tourist is an economic resource for nations; and as long as this is the case, we believe that national borders will continue to play a central role even in an increasingly globalised and cosmopolitan world and food culture.

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Notes

1 Also articulated in “Food and drink” where NNC is closely associated to national Danish cuisine: “Until a few years ago, Danish food culture was essentially associated with potatoes and bacon, and Danish cuisine was completely unknown outside of the country. Not anymore. Over the last decade, New Nordic Cuisine has revolutionized Danish gastronomy and created an entirely new focus on local ingredients.”

2 “Denmark Awarded More Michelin Stars.”

3 René Redzepi is particularly framed as the frontrunner of New Nordic Cuisine with to profiles in the text from “Denmark – the official website of Denmark”, “Redzepi’s recipe” and “Rene Redzepi”. Claus Meyer is attributed the role as a founding father: “The New Nordic Cuisine”.

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List of illustrations

Title Table 1. Information about website, title of the analysed text and whether or not a specifically Nordic cuisine, kitchen, movement, or any other term that suggests a Nordic culinary collective is mentioned in the specific text.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/aof/docannexe/image/8723/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 344k
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References

Electronic reference

Nicklas Neuman and Jonatan Leer, « Nordic Cuisine but National Identities  », Anthropology of food [Online], 13 | 2018, Online since 19 July 2018, connection on 22 July 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/aof/8723

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About the authors

Nicklas Neuman

Corresponding author. PhD, Department of Food Studies, Nutrition and Dietetics, Uppsala University. Uppsala, Sweden.

Jonatan Leer

PhD, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. Aarhus, Denmark.

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
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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