When you first come to Norway you will be told about one of Norway’s ‘traditions’ – the matpakke. I was told by several people about this tradition and it was also talked about in my Norwegian class as part of our social science learning. The way it was taught was as if it was a tradition that was unique to Norway and many Norwegians are very fond of it, in fact, they do it every day. However, to me, a matpakke was just a packed lunch. Nothing special, just slices of bread with brown cheese, cheese and salami and maybe some capsicum or cucumber on top. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about since Australia (and most likely all other western countries) had sandwiches for lunch too, in a box, made from home. (It is likely the ‘tradition’ information was specifically for non-western immigrants, but I am sure they also knew what a packed lunch was even before coming to Norway.)
Growing up in Australian the ‘matpakke’ had evolved somewhat from ‘vegemite sangers’ into a smorgasbord of fruits and nuts, omelets, wraps, soups and whatever made you excited about eating it. There was advice from cooking shows and magazines on how to get your kids to eat healthy food for lunch – make it fun with colour and shapes. This was logical to me and was an opportunity to make food fun. In fact, Australia was going through a food revolution where food was becoming tasty pieces of art. I’m sure other countries followed this trend too but not Norway.
Now 20 years later, Norway has recently cottoned onto the idea that a matpakke can be a cause for excitement too. Noodles and rice, vegetables, salad and nut mixes have become trendy (to parents) for kid’s lunch boxes for school. To help the kids explore better food, Norwegian ‘experts’ and foodies suggest making the food fun as (like everywhere else) most Norwegian kids find it difficult to eat anything green. I have even bought some magazines to see what Norwegians suggest, for they do have an interesting take on how food can be used.
But what has resulted in the matpakke revolution, and sadly to say since living in Norway for five years is no surprise to me, is a backlash, even a scoff, at the new ideas of food for lunch. Norwegian parents and social phycologists are complaining that having such exciting lunch boxes for school will cause a class division amongst kids between the haves and the have-nots. In response to having shaped food and interesting things to eat, a nutricianist from the Universty of Stavanger, Nanna Lien, says:
I have no data on this as a scientist, but based on the theory that the higher-class want to differentiate themselves from the lower-class then the matpakke can be used to create a class distinction. This can cause increased pressure – both time pressure and financial pressure – on parenting in general that a lunch box should look nice.
However, in balance, in the same article Forskere advarer mot fancy matpakketrend on osloby.no, it is revealed that 88% of kids in Norway do not eat greens and do not have greens in their lunch boxes. (The ‘traditional’ Norwegian matpakke is certainly not green friendly.) I think Norwegian parents should be under pressure to do what they can to serve their kids vegetables and if that means making exciting lunches then so be it. But not all Norwegian parents are making a fuss about having to encourage their kids to eat greens (only the loudest ones). I was mightily impressed the other day when Moose gave the kids a plated mash potato face with a bean smile, pea eyes and fish hair. However, in contrast, last week I was told by our barnehage that they didn’t want me to bring in such ‘extravagant’ breakfasts for my kids – I gave them cereal with yoghurt topped with nuts and fruit, and a side of cheese, capsicum, cucumber, apple and salami sticks.
But, one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that this topic is an interesting discussion that everyone wants to continue. I’m glad that Norway is finally starting to look at their diet and nutrition. Food quality is poor in Norway and maybe this is the start of better things. Lets hope that this will encourage a new burst towards the love of good quality, affordable food for everyone.
Reference articles (and include the comments under the article to see what Norwegians are saying):