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Plant-Forward Foods in the Oslo Office

By Marianna de Almeida Debelian

In today’s environment, shaped by climate change, health epidemics and threats to biodiversity, we need to be more mindful of what we eat, how we produce and source our food, and how we can contribute towards a fair and sustainable food system — both as individuals and as a society.

At the BB Oslo Office, we eat plant-forward foods for lunch every day. Most of the produce used in our kitchen is organic, seasonal and often from local farms and small-scale producers in and around Oslo. In addition to having bees on our roof terrace, we’re starting to grow our own vegetables, herbs and berries. This will leave us with an abundance of honey and veggies that will be used in our kitchen to cook healthy and delicious lunches throughout the year.

It’s important to note that “plant-forward” is not the same as “plant-based”. While plant-based food is made uniquely from plants, plant-forward food emphasises plants but doesn’t strictly limit itself to this. Meat and seafood may be included, but usually aren’t the main feature of the meal. This means that our lunches are mainly vegetarian, but being a Norway-based office, we do like to sometimes include seafood when we can get it wild, locally sourced and/or from trusted breeders.

So, let’s do a little deep dive into why we choose plant-forward lunches at the BB Oslo Office.

On a global basis, meat production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and carries with it ethical problems, such as animal welfare, health and social costs, and an unfair trade policy that benefits the few. With that in mind, a greener economy and more plant-based food production are important parts of the solution. At the same time, all solutions must be contextualised and take into account cultural, political and natural prerequisites for sustainable food production. This implies a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of what a fair and sustainable food system entails. The debate as to whether we should eat meat or not must therefore incorporate perspectives that embrace nature conservation, self-sufficiency, solidarity and food security.

For example, we can’t turn our backs on the value of grazing animals. Grazing lands help to store carbon in the soil and protect biological diversity, while some grasslands, like those in Norway, aren’t suitable for growing food directly for humans. Such areas can therefore be used for grazing, to keep the soil healthy and to avoid imported feed, like soy from the Amazon. At the same time, more of the grass areas suitable for growing grains and vegetables must be used to increase the production of plant food for the population. Increased use of open-field grazing and a strengthened green agriculture can contribute positively to a region’s self-sufficiency, which in turn may reduce the need for highly industrialised imports. It’s clear that importing as much animal feed as many countries do today is not sustainable; we seize land for our own gain and undermine food security locally and globally, which in turn can lower a country’s level of self-sufficiency. 

On the other hand, one must also question the notion of a completely vegan society, given the amount of arable land we have around the world. With a growing population and limited arable soil, it’s difficult to imagine a self-sufficient vegan population. There’s no question that reduced meat consumption is necessary if we are to achieve a fair and sustainable food system, but this doesn’t mean that one should stop eating meat entirely.

From the perspective of food security and solidarity, the act of cutting meat consumption is more about cutting industrialised, mass-produced meat than reducing grass-fed meat from small-scale farms. It’s about stopping the import of animal feed — like soy, which eats up land areas in Brazil — and instead using local grazing resources. It's about growing more vegetables and grain on the topsoil we have available based on methods that protect the soil and biological diversity. The produce itself isn’t necessarily the problem — meat is not just meat, and a potato is not just a potato. The problem lies in how the raw materials are produced and in the systems behind the produce, which fail to facilitate sustainable food production.

While research shows that we need to reduce meat consumption by 50% globally to avoid catastrophic climate change and the collapse of biodiversity by 2050, some regions — like Southeast Asia — might need to increase their meat intake to meet nutritional requirements. To allow for that, we’ll need to see even steeper reductions in countries with high levels of meat consumption.

So, what should we eat? This will of course vary from country to country, as the answer very much depends on different contextual matters, but generally speaking, and from a global perspective:

1. The best, cheapest, healthiest solution is to eat plants as they are.

2. Then we have plant-based alternatives. Although most currently come from industrial agriculture, these products are still generally better for the environment than conventional beef due to much lower emissions and land and water use, and of course there’s no animal suffering. However, the nutritional value of these products varies a lot, depending on what they’re made of, how they're processed and how many additives are used. While we need to push companies to improve their regenerative sourcing, these products can be part of a healthy sustainable diet when consumed in moderation.

3. Grass-fed, free-range meat can be good in small amounts, contributing to both a healthy diet and the environment. As mentioned, grazing animals can boost soil health and, consequently, help to restore biodiversity. The welfare of free-range animals generally is also higher. However, the extent to which cows can help to reverse the effects of climate change by building soil organic matter is disputed. Some researchers claim that grass-fed cows actually take up more land, and lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef, because grazing animals grow more slowly and are slaughtered at a lower weight. What this actually means is that we would need to produce and eat a lower quantity, but better quality of meat.

4. Then we have industrial, grain-fed meat. Today, the meat industry accounts for 15% of climate emissions globally and occupies over 80% of the world’s arable lands. One-third of the world’s grain goes to feeding animals to produce cheap meat. If we keep doing business as usual, demand for meat and animal proteins will more than double by 2050.

5. Finally, we have cultured meat, also called lab-grown meat. This could potentially address concerns around the environmental impact of meat production, animal welfare and food security, as well as human and planetary health. But it’s also very new, and there are still questions around its environmental and health impact when mass produced, as well as social determinants, like how farmers’ livelihoods and their animals will be affected if cultivated meat takes off.

The point is, regardless of whether one chooses to eat meat or consume a vegetarian, flexitarian or vegan diet, we first and foremost need a food system that is based on circular principles, that’s locally anchored, and that enhances natural diversity rather than destroying it. In this way, we can move towards a fair and sustainable food system. It’s impossible to do everything alone, but everyone can do something. At the BB Oslo office we’ve chosen plant-forward lunches with mainly organic produce from local farms, zero food waste, a kitchen garden and bees on our rooftop.

If you’d like to read more on the topic, Marianna recommends Food in the Anthropocene: The Eat-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems”, 2019. Or to see more of the values and culture we promote at BB, read our A-Z guide.

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