Eco-friendly food trends: organic, local, or biodynamic?

Claus Christensen, owner of Doep organc hot-dog stand in CopenhagenI’ve just got back from a fascinating trip to Copenhagen – it was my first visit to the city and I was blown away by the commitment the city and its residents have made to sustainability. I visited several fantastic organic restaurants, including BioMio, where menus emphasise the immune-boosting, energy-boosting or libido-boosting properties of every dish, and even an organic hot-dog stand, Doep.

It was intriguing to compare the terms and concepts we use to describe sustainable food in the UK compared to other European countries. In Copenhagen, the words ‘biological’ and ‘ecological’ seemed fairly interchangeable with the term ‘organic’, though I’d never heard them used before myself.

From speaking to Danish and Dutch journalists, organic/biological food seems to be the bigger trend in those countries, but there is less emphasis on ‘local produce’. In the UK, I think we’re hotter on ‘locally-sourced produce’ at the moment – ‘buying British’ is definitely the in thing right now. And while I’ve eaten in plenty of restaurants which go big on their local food, I haven’t come across so many which categorise themselves overtly as ‘organic’ (or fewer that serve meat, at least). Our being an island perhaps makes us more inclined towards self-sufficiency, whereas food can be transported by land between European countries more easily.

We ate at Copenhagen’s BioM restaurant and had an interesting chat with chef Brian Johansen. Chefs Brian Johansen and Heinz Lodahl at Copenhagen's BioM restaurantThe restaurant strives to be as organic as possible, even down to organic-cotton tea towels and organic paint on the walls. Brian is proud to sell organic Naturefrisk cola, which he admits is “the second worst cola in Denmark”.

The chefs do use local and seasonal produce when they can, freezing berries in the summer so they can still make marmalade in the winter. But they are more concerned about the organicity of their produce than about it being locally sourced. They buy organically-grown fruit grown in Kenya, for example. I asked Brian what their thinking behind this is – surely the food miles created by importing such produce offsets the environmental benefits of organic farming?

Cabbage salad with roasted scallop, black currant vinaigrette and rye bread gremolata“It’s a tough decision between polluting the water in our backyards, and polluting the sky,” Brian says. “If you pollute the sky, it’s all around everyone, but at least they’re getting better soil in Africa where it’s growing. I don’t want to buy local if it’s contaminated with chemicals,” he explains.

I see his point but can’t agree with him entirely; if we don’t prevent global warming from irrevocably damaging the planet, won’t the quality of soil in Africa or anywhere be rather irrelevant?

Food miles aside, the most intriguing term I heard in Copenhagen was ‘biodynamic‘ – a concept developed via anthroposophy, which takes organic farming to a whole new and rather far-fetched level:

The light of the sun, moon, planets and stars …contributes to the life, growth and form of the plant. By understanding the gesture and effect of each rhythm, we can time our ground preparation, sowing, cultivating and harvesting to the advantage of the crops we are raising.”

Apparently, all Denmark’s best wines (yes, they make wine and it’s rather nice) are currently made with grapes grown biodynamically.

Whatever’s next? Horoscopes for horesradish? Tarot cards for turnips?

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