Food festival draws thousands

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An estimated 250,000 people were expected to indulge themselves at the annual Gladmat food festival in Stavanger this week, just as news was breaking that Norwegians throw away as much as a quarter of the food sold at the grocery store. The cast-offs may be fueled by expiration dates marked on food packaging that some feel are too strict.

Government minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa (left) opened the Gladmat festival, where local chef Kjartan Skjelde won the annual food culture prize and legendary TV cook Ingrid Espelid Hovig made an appearance. PHOTO: Gladmat.no

The Gladmat festival, which literally translates to “happy food,” opened on Wednesday with locally based cabinet minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa doing the honors, before Stavanger chef Kjartan Skjelde was awarded the Matculturpris (Food culture prize) for 2010.

The festival, which runs for four days, was also featuring appearances by national TV cooks Ingrid Espelid Hovig and Wenche Andersen, along with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. It’s the 12th time that the city of Stavanger is helping sponsor the festival that shows off local delicacies as well as international cuisine.

Food booths line the waterfront of Stavanger's inner harbor every year. PHOTO: City of Stavanger

Stavanger is known for its wide variety of restaurants, way out of proportion to the city’s relatively small size. The local oil industry and business visitors have long helped sustain the city’s restaurant business, while Gladmat is a showcase for Norwegian food production and culture.

It opened just a day after newspaper Aftenposten reported that Norwegians throw away 278,000 tons of food every year, worth an estimated NOK 10 billion. The food disposal comes despite high prices for food in Norway, and meat producer Nortura links much of it to the expiration dates they’re required to print on their packaging.

They want to change the wording that precedes the dates, from “siste forbruksdag” (last consumption day) to “best før” (best before). Nortura, which owns the Gilde and Prior meat and poultry brands, contend their products are still fully edible after the expiration date.

“We think the change can reduce the amount of food that’s thrown away,” Nina Sundqvist of Nortura told Aftenposten. She said Nortura is prepared to launch a parallel campaign that would inform the public about how to tell whether the food should indeed be tossed.

Norway’s food safety authority Mattilsynet, however, doesn’t support Nortura’s proposal. It claims that consumption dates are based on health and quality concerns and that all perishable food like meat must be marked with “siste forbruksdag,” after which it can’t be sold.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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