Philanthropist and doctor Gunhild Stordalen has teamed up with incoming Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) leader Jonas Gahr Støre and Rema 1000 supermarket boss Ole Robert Reitan as part of a global initiative to combat lifestyle diseases and food production that is damaging to the environment. One of Stordalen’s key messages is to eat less meat, a policy that goes against the interests of the farming and meat lobby in Norway that Støre and the Labour Party otherwise claim to support.
The initiative, known as “Eat,” was set up in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Center by the Stordalen Foundation, an organization run by Gunhild and her husband, hotelier and investor Petter Stordalen. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has reported that Eat aims to unite international political, industrial and academic leaders to discuss ways to create a healthy and sustainable food industry. The organization’s first conference, the Eat Stockholm Food Forum, will be held at the end of the month in Sweden, with former US president and overeater-turned-vegan Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker.
Stordalen said the goal was to create a forum as globally important and influential as the World Economic Forum’s Davos conference, and that the idea had quickly gained traction. “What started as a little two-hour breakfast seminar has become a global initiative in almost a year,” she told DN. “There hasn’t been enough recognition of the relationship between food, health and sustainability. Eat is a triple helix, with food, health and sustainability, including climate challenges.”
“We’re gathering academia, industry and politics in one arena,” she continued. “The business community is extremely important to Eat, because we think that they must go from being a part of the problem to being a very important part of the solution. But in order for industry to get the right growth conditions to manage to come up with new solutions, we need long-sighted framework and the right political regulations. We saw the need to drive the three sectors together.”
Jonas Gahr Støre, who served as longtime foreign minister and also health minister in the last Labour-led Norwegian government, was instrumental in building Eat’s global profile, providing important connections to the World Health Organization (WHO). In early April he and Stordalen traveled to Geneva to meet with the WHO’s head, Margaret Chan. “This quite special network with Gunhild Stordalen and many others has triggered an initiative that could not have been adopted by a ministry or public institution,” he said.
Støre is a member of Eat’s council, made up of 27 representatives from international university and research groups, the United Nations food program, World Economic Forum and medical journal The Lancet. The leader of the Norwegian Medical Association (Den norske legeforeningen), Hege Gjessing, and the director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, Johan Rockström, are also on board.
The incoming Labour leader said he thought long and hard before joining the Eat initiative. Støre said he was curious about what Stordalen could achieve. “She is a doctor with a PhD, and I know that she is a hard-working person,” he told DN. “Furthermore I saw that the Swedish professor Johan Rockström was on the member council. And when he had joined it, that was yet another reason to listen to what Gunhild had to say.”
Støre said such entrepreneurship was important in the field, because politicians were bound by criteria governing what they could participate in. “But if we think that we can solve these challenges just with political decisions here in Parliament and international gatherings, forget it! It sometimes brings us out on ice which can be thin, but we must try to take the steps. I’m thinking of what I call politics 2.0. You are needed to lift the policy up to a new level which is complicated because there are many actors, but it triggers energy. We don’t have time not to do this.”
Støre said he did not see any problems with him being involved in a project significantly financed by the Stordalens, because the budget had been open and transparent. “Where the ice is thin, I believe, is to be watchful over which sponsors the project can take,” he said. “Another thin ice is that Eat is not a decision-making body.” He said that’s why it was necessary to make contact with the WHO.
Støre faces another conflict closer to home. Stordalen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday night that one of the best things consumers can do to help stop climate change is to eat less meat or go vegetarian, because of the meat industry’s significant contribution to carbon emissions. That’s a move that could hurt Norwegian farmers, and by supporting her message, Støre seems to contradict Labour’s work towards agricultural support and protection.
Stordalen would not say how much she and her husband Petter had spent on Eat, or on the forum in Stockholm. Rema 1000 is one of the principal sponsors, but Ole Robert Reitan would not be drawn on how much the chain had contributed. “I don’t remember the total,” he said. “But it wasn’t difficult to join in on this. We fill the refrigerators of every fourth Norwegian, and we feel a clear responsibility to help contribute to healthy food and sustainable food production.”
He said the industrialization of food production over the last century had meant many more Norwegians could eat their fill, but at the same time the relentless pursuit of efficiency, volume growth and production growth had led to a loss of perspective, and created health problems.
“I am an actor who quite surely has been a part of the problem,” said Reitan. “Our ambition is to learn the most possible, therefore we’re on board with Eat and the World Economic Forum. We want to be at the place where skill and experience meet.” He said supermarkets could drive healthy eating by positioning the fruit and vegetable departments where customers first enter, increasing sales, and by cutting out environmentally damaging products like palm oil.