Community-run day care centers in the fjordside city of Horten, southwest of Oslo, have decided to stop serving Norway’s ubiquitous brown goat cheese to their young charges. They contend that brown cheese, long a staple in many Norwegian homes, contains way too much sugar and fat to be a healthy food for small children.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) aired the locally shocking report Friday morning on its nationwide radio channel P1 and some listeners immediately wondered whether it was an early April Fools’ Day media joke. Linda Jakobsen, leader of Horten’s effort to usher in healthier food in day care centers (barnehager) and after-school programs, confirmed the local officials are serious about banning both the brown cheese and a related spread called prim.
“We don’t mean to set off a revolution, but rather normalize our food offerings,” Jakobsen told NRK. She and community nutritionist Pia Harritz Torchio have set new menu guidelines, and a new “inspirational brochure” about what children also should have in their home-made lunch packs is being sent out to parents.
“Brown cheese and prim contain so much sugar, and we know today that children sit much more still and eat food with more calories,” Jakobsen said. “That’s why we no longer want to serve brown cheese in the community arena.”
‘Tastes good,’ but ‘not good’
Jakobsen admits that it “tastes good” for many children and adults alike, who don’t mind the fact that it also has a tendency to stick to the roof of the mouth when eaten. She argues, though, that “it doesn’t contain anything that a child’s body can gain from. Chocolate spreads also taste good, but we don’t recommend that either.”
Reaction to the brown cheese ban was swift, with one “woman on the street” telling NRK that she thinks it’s “tragic. I like brown cheese so much myself.” Others called the ban “strange” and “un-Norwegian,” with one man wondering whether “we have so many different kinds of people in Norway now that we can’t serve Norwegian brown cheese anymore.” Told that it was because of concerns about high sugar content, an issue that even former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland has worked hard to fight against during her years at the World Health Organisation, another woman shook her head and replied, “Oh, is that the reason now…”
Brown cheese (alternately called brunost, geitost or Gudbrandalsost) will also be banned from the after-school programs for older children called SFO (skole fritidsordning). Morten Kjær, leader of SFO in Horten, said there was “some discussion” about the ban among personnel, but it ultimately won support.
“We thought at first that ‘does it really matter that the kids get a thin slice here,’ but then someone said that since we do serve a between-meal snack, we might as well offer them something healthier,” Kjær said.
It’s still unclear whether the Horten initiative against the sweet, fatty cheese will spread to other communities, but it’s bad news for its main producer, state dairy cooperative Tine. After years of market domination in Norway, Tine has been increasingly challenged by new fledgling competitors, public outcry over its failure to produce enough butter for the Norwegian market a few years ago, high prices and a new conservative government that wants less market regulation and more choices for Norwegian consumers. Tine also recently faced protests over a proposal to move brown cheese production out of Gudbrandsdalen, where it started.
Jakobsen, meanwhile, is proud of the new “healthier food” program that Horten has rolled out in a short time and with minimal cost to taxpayers. “We know that many children are overweight, and with that comes various illness and psychological problems,” she said. “Preventative measures are the simplest and cheapest way to save the children. It’s not difficult to simply choose healthier, less sweet and fatty foods.” She said that parents can still serve brown cheese to their children at home, “but then it’s good that they won’t get it in the day care centers or schools anymore.”