The Future of Food: Finland Might Become a Vegetarian Nation

Finns are eating less meat than ever. This tendency might be the start of becoming a vegetarian nation, or a plant-based one at least.
Susan Fourtané
Vegan burger with chickpea cutlet, avocado, cucumber, and greens in rye breadvaaseenaa/iStock

As meat eating begins to decline in Finland and the role of food of animal origin begins to be questioned more openly, Finnish researchers have started a heated debate on how the way Finns eat impacts the environment. The impact of food that is of animal origin has started to show up in statistics. It seems like a new turn in the way Finns pick their food supports both the environment and a healthier nutrition.

One of the biggest global trends in contemporary societies has been the increasing transition into a plant-based diet. More supermarkets are becoming vegan friendly. And while fully vegan restaurants are still rare, vegetarian and modern general restaurants offer vegan alternatives. 

The trend is especially noticeable in certain countries where research studies have been conducted to confirm that, indeed, the consumption of meat and dairy products are decreasing. At the same time, the replacement and consumption of meat and dairy products by plant-based alternatives is increasing. Some statistics indicate that people have begun to question the origin of the food they put on their plates. Let's take Finland as an example.

Finns now consume less meat 

healthy breakfast
Healthy breakfast, Source: agrobacter, iStock 

In 2019, Finns consumed an average of 80 kilos of meat, 148 kilos of liquid dairy products, 12 kilos of eggs, 15 kilos of fish, 81 kilos of cereals, 66 kilos of vegetables, and 66 kilos of fruit. The preliminary data was collected by the Nutritional Balance Report of the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and it was reported in June 2020. 

Last year, the total consumption of meat was almost 80 kilograms (176 pounds) per person, including game and edible organs. The total consumption has decreased by about 1.8 percent from the previous year, an equivalent to about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) per capita.

According to Erja Mikkola, senior specialist from Luke, the consumption of poultry meat has increased by almost four percent from 2018, meaning its consumption is now 26.6 kilograms (58.6 pounds) per capita. On the other hand, pork consumption decreased by about five percent, which is the equivalent to about 30.8 kilograms (67.9 pounds), but it is still consumed more than poultry. Last year, an average of 18.8 kilos (41.4 pounds) of beef was consumed, which was about half a kilo less than in the previous year. 

The study found that the total grain consumption increased by just over two kilos per capita from 2018, with the report showing that it was about 81 kilos (178.5 pounds) last year. The increase was attributed to an increase in oat consumption. The consumption of oats in Finland increased from the previous year by about two kilos -or almost 30 percent- to 9.5 kilos (20.9 pounds) per capita. After a smoother phase, the oat boom seemed to intensify again. The consumption of rice increased by half a kilo from the previous year, and the consumption of wheat decreased slightly. The consumption of other cereals remained broadly unchanged.

Milk consumption continues to decline in Finland 

cow and calf
Cow feeding newborn in The Netherlands, Source: Ben-Schonewille, iStock 

There are many wrong and unhealthy facts about human consumption of cow's milk. To begin with, milk is loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol, and contains an increasing variety of pesticides and antibiotics that are fed to animals. These pesticides and antibiotics pass on to the human body and this is one of the reasons for bacteria antibiotic resistance.

On top of that, the reason for cow's milk is to feed the calves, pretty much like human milk is designed to feed human babies. Moreover, those who consume cow's milk are consuming a food that nature designed for babies of other species. This causes many problems in the human system such as lactose intolerance, bloating, cramps, gas, nausea, and diarrhea since the human digestive system is not prepared to digest this kind of milk.

Besides humans, no other animal species drinks milk beyond their natural age of weaning, or drinks the milk of another species. Simply put, cow's milk does not suit the nutritional needs of humans. It seems like some have started to understand this fact. 

According to the report, milk consumption in Finland fell again by about five percent from the previous year. The same happened in 2018. The consumption of skimmed milk decreased by almost eight percent, semi-skimmed milk by about four percent, and whole milk by one percent. In total, an average of 102 liters (22.4 gallons) of milk was drunk per capita last year. The study found that the proportions of use of different types of milk remained unchanged: 57 percent for semi-skimmed milk, about 30 percent for skimmed milk, and just over 10 percent for whole milk.

On average, consumption of dairy products either fell slightly or remained unchanged. Consumption of butter, yogurt, and cream decreased. Consumption of other milk-based fresh produce, such as flavored curds, increased. In 2019, a total of 148 kilos (326 pounds) of liquid dairy products were used per capita, which is about four percent less than in the previous year.

Surprisingly, cheese consumption slightly decreased, and was about 25 kilos (55 pounds). The consumption of butter was also slightly less than in the previous year, 3.3 kilos (7.2 pounds), according to Erja Mikkola.  

A diet with more fruits and vegetables, less meat and sugar

vegan salad
Detox bowl with turmeric roasted chickpeas, greens, avocado, persimmon, blood orange, nuts, and pomegranate, Source: sveta_zarzamora. iStock 

The total fish consumption remained at 14.9 kilograms (32.8 pounds) per capita. Canned fish was consumed slightly more than in the previous year. According to the report, there have not been major changes in the total fish consumption. Also, there has only been a little variation in egg consumption in recent years.

The total fish consumption remained at 14.9 kilograms (32.8 pounds) per capita. Canned fish was consumed slightly more than in the previous year. According to the report, there have not been major changes in the total fish consumption. Also, there has only been a little variation in egg consumption in recent years. 

The consumption of fresh fruit saw an increase per capita. The consumption of citrus fruits increased by half a kilo from the previous year, and now is 14.3 kilos (31.5 pounds). The consumption of other fresh fruits fell slightly. A total of around seven kilograms of canned fruit and dried fruit were eaten. The consumption of vegetables increased from the previous year. An estimated 66 kilograms (145.5 pounds) of fresh vegetables were used per capita.

The changes in food selection started to be noticeable last year, and now the researchers have started to wonder if this is a permanent change that will continue. If this change in food choices becomes permanent, in a few decades' time Finland might become a vegetarian or vegan nation. 

According to the report, despite Finns having eaten a record amount of meat in previous years, averaging over 81 kilos a year, last year, the consumption of meat in Finland fell to the 2015 levels. 

Helsinki Times reported that Mari Niva, Professor of Food Culture at the University of Helsinki, believes that "the statistics now show a lively discussion about the climate and environmental effects of meat in recent years." Niva said that "there have been small dips and ups and downs in previous years as well. Nothing can be said about the permanence of the change." 

However, Finns have been eating less pork than ever before in the 21st century. Niva believes that the change is due, at least in part, to the replacement of meat and dairy products with oat-based products. 

A more health conscious population looking for nutrient-rich foods is another trend in the statistics. The consumption of fresh vegetables increased to a new record. On average, Finns consumed less sugar than ever before in the last 20 years.

According to Niva, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the eating habits of Finns and other Europeans are currently being studied as part of an international study initiative.