Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2020

A taste for nature in an Inuit perspective

Opinion paper

By Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann, PhD, Postdoc, The University of Greenland – Ilisimatusarfik, Greenland

 

The Opinion

We must be more critical about assuming that a sustainable and healthy diet is obtained through focusing on plant-based foods. From the perspective of an animal-sourced food culture, the Inuit food culture, sustainability of a diet must be obtained through a reconnection to nature.

The Background

The public debate on food has become dominated by an often unchallenged trinity: diet, sustainability, and the linking of these through plants. This was cemented in 2019 by the launch of the EAT Lancet report [1]. There is a simple logic in linking diet and sustainability through plants because of the easily calculated reductions in carbon-emissions when comparing industrial plant production with industrial animal productions. In addition, the intuitive connection between plants and nature suggests an intrinsic character of sustainability in plants. On top of this comes ethical concerns over animal-sourced foods. But the idea of a global plant-based diet in its over-simplicity is at risk of creating a future food system that utilizes solution of the same character that has created the global health and environmental crises to begin with. Instead, we must find solutions for the fundamental issue: that we have become detached from nature.

The Argument

When you grow up in an Inuit community, food is synonymous with animals. Therefore, coming from an Inuit perspective you are urged to question today’s dominant focus on a green (i.e. sustainable) plant-based diet for global health. To an Inuk, nature is not only green, it is also brown, red and grey, even if you come from Greenland.

It is a popular notion that a healthy and environmentally friendly diet will be obtained through motivating people to choose right by creating plant-based foods with the taste of umami, paradoxically the dominant taste of animals. But the creation of easy-to-choose taste experiences is part of the cause of today’s health crisis. Our craving for the right combinations of sweet, salty and oily and the industry’s utilization of this for profit have a great part of the responsibility for our deteriorating health. In addition, plant-based foods are not intrinsically healthy foods, nor do they always increase our incentive to reduce our resource use. In fact, they have just as much potential to do the opposite. All foods we eat draw on natural resources through their process of becoming foods for consumption. At the simplest end of the spectrum a dried fish requires one killed fish for it to be consumed or an apple picked from a tree requires one apple to become food. At the other end of the spectrum are foods that do not at all taste of the natural resources they require to become the foods they are. The Impossible™ Burger is the epitome of this. It is so far removed from nature that no one will ever intuitively know what it is made of. In fact, that is the whole Impossible™ idea. But it is plant-based. Is it then also inherently healthier and more sustainable than anything animal-sourced? No. A meatless Monday is not by definition neither a healthier nor a more sustainable Monday than the meaty ones.

If we truly wish to create an internal incentive for eating right, we must be able to taste the piece of nature we are eating, and we must be able to know what natural resources it required for us to eat this piece of food. This ability is enhanced when what you eat is in fact nature itself. Therefore, an important part of the solution to our global health and environmental crises is to reconnect to nature. The traditional Greenlandic way of foods still retains part of the ancient Inuit knowledge that humans are nature and foods are nature. In Greenland, we still know the taste of nature and we still crave this taste [2]. In Greenland it is obvious that a transition towards an industrialized society has destroyed public health (despite a great increase in plant-based foods in the diet) [3,4] and reduced our incentive to treat nature with respect, because we now hunt and fish for recreation or monetary profit rather than as a way of life. We have certainly lost part of our connection to nature in our modern ways of life, but this only makes the source of our problems appear so much clearer. Reconnecting to nature is an abstract notion that may take many forms in many places. If you are used to spending time in nature with the aim of acquiring foods, by hunting, fishing or collecting, you know what the idea is and you know the feeling of deep satisfaction that comes from eating these foods and the connection felt to the environment.

The opinion presented here is not that we must all revert to hunter-gatherer lifestyles. The opinion is that through a connection to nature, we can find help to find a taste for eating right in the sense of human and planetary health. The advice is that there are lessons to be learned from populations that have managed to keep at least part of their position within nature and their craving for the taste of nature. Lessons that are at risk of being overseen and eventually lost if we push blindly for a global plant-based diet. By reconnecting to nature, we are given an internal motivation to eat right and to treat our environment such that we can eat right in the future too. This is not a complete solution, just like a plant-based diet is not a complete solution, because the problems at hand are complex and far reaching and we must find many and differing solutions along the way.    

References

1.     Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, Springmann M, Lang T, Vermeulen S, et al. The Lancet Commissions Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. 2019. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4

2.     Hauptmann AL, Paulová P, Castro-mejía JL, Hansen LH, Sicheritz-pontén T, Mulvad G, et al. The microbial composition of dried fish prepared according to Greenlandic Inuit traditions and industrial counterparts. Food Microbiol. 2019;85.

3.     Helms P. Forskellen mellem kosten for en fanger af 1936 og manden af i dag. Atuisoq. 1988;4: 7–8.

4.     Pars T, Osler M, Bjerregaard P. Contemporary use of traditional and imported food among Greenlandic Inuit. Arctic. 2001;54: 22–31. Available: http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0- 0035026669&partnerID=40&md5=9f6ef81c147cd2c647494e467207a8ea