Food to live – or to live for food

Main themes: Food culture, family, communities, sharing, rituals, tradition and age

By Daniel, Mille, Maria and Naja (Tørring High school)


Food means a lot to understand the daily life of Danes and what Danes think about their own culture. Food is a gathering point for family and friends and is therefore an important indicator on the community of the society. We went to visit three different generations of Danes: a young man named Kenneth, a middle-aged woman named Bettina and an elderly woman named Kirsten, all of whom we have joined for a dinner. Wonder if there is a difference in what they eat and how they eat? And can their food habits tell us how Danes live and act together?


At Kenneth’s place: The social activities are more important than the food

We arrive at the place of the young man, Kenneth, who is lying on the couch together with his roommate, watching television. We have to go to Netto (a Danish supermarket) to buy ingredients for the food we are going to have for dinner. But the two boys are a kind of lazy and decide just to cook some pasta with ketchup for the hungry guests. Also they offer us some alcohol to get a little cozy on. We drink a couple of beers, called “Blue Thor”, and some white wine. The mood is very cozy and casual, and we are feeling well received.

The good relationship between us and to have a drink or two is more important than the actual cooking. This fits very well with the Danish youth culture, where it is more important to be in company of each other, and to be very social, than it is to cook.

We asked Kenneth about his ideas of Danish food.

What is Danish food to you?
- Danish food is Danish meatballs (‘frikadeller’) with potatoes and brown sauce as my grandma cooks it. Real Danish food can only be cooked by elderly people because the young people in Denmark has become way to healthy to cook the real Danish food.

What does Danish food mean to you?

- Danish food doesn’t mean that much to me. To me it doesn’t mean much if I it is not often that I eat real Danish food. But the times when I actually get it, it is really good!

Do you cook from scratch?
- It is moderate how much I cook from scratch when I live alone in an apartment. It is not something that I care that much about.

Where do you mostly eat your food?
- Down in front of the television. I sit in the couch with the television turned on and eat by the table in my living room. But it is also cosy when my friends stop by.

Do you always cook your food yourself?
- Yes, I do. I live alone so I am forced to do it. But it is not every day I spend a lot of time on cooking.


At home at Bettina’s: Dinner is the gathering point of the family

We have brought some flowers for Bettina, because it is polite to bring a “hostess gift” (værtindegave) in Denmark. A hostess gift can be many different things, but is mostly a non-expensive thing such as a flower bouquet or some chocolate. The table is set for 7 people, which consists of Bettina, her husband, their two daughters at the age of 9 and 19 years old and us. For dinner meatballs (frikadeller, see recipe in activitity folder) are served with brown sauce, potatoes and red cabbage. The mood is very comfortable and present. There is a very welcoming atmosphere in the family. Over the dinner table we talk about the happenings of the day. Especially the youngest daughter has a lot to tell us about her sport activities. To ensure a good mood the grownups do an effort to talk with and about us instead of talking about themselves. When we are done eating, the leftovers are given to the dog and the cat of the family, and the tableware is putted in the dishwasher. After the meal we are offered coffee and tea, and the talks go on until it is time for us to leave.


At Kirsten’s house: Danish food is Danish identity

73-year-old Kirsten lives with her partner. We are three guests and therefore 5 people in total who are staying for dinner. On forehand Kirsten has bought the ingredients’ for the dinner we are going to eat. We are going to help with the cooking right from the start, and all of it is made from the scratch. The main course consists of meatballs, potatoes, brown sauce and old-fashioned salad made of salad leafs with whipped cream mixed with lemon juice. After the dinner we go to the garden to play some ‘Krolf’, which is a game of golf mixed with crocket. After that we go back to the house to eat lemon mousse (citron fromage, see recipe in activitity folder), which we have made for dessert.

After eating dessert we all help each other clean the table, and we are offered coffee and tea. The cosy atmosphere that surrounded the cooking and the game in the garden played a big part in the visit, and it created a good atmosphere, which was nice fore everyone to be a part of.

Kirsten mirrors a lot of her identity in the Danish food because she has grown up with this kind of food, and today she is still cooking it. We got Kirsten to tell her ideas of Danish food.

What is Danish food to you?

- It must be produced in Denmark and it must be organic. Not halal slaughtered.”

Organic food has become popular in Denmark in the recent years, but it is often more expensive than other kinds of food. In Denmark the food is usually marked with a sign if it is organic or meat, which is halal slaughtered; that is when the meat is slaughtered by Muslims rules. In Denmark lives many Muslim immigrants and also a lot of the Danish meat is exported to Muslim countries and therefor it is halal slaughtered. But it is not all people who like those principles and Kirsten avoids buying halal slaughtered meat.

Does Danish food mean a lot to you?

- Yes. I look at the commodities in the supermarkets to see which country the commodity is from; it could be apples for example. And I use vegetables and fruits that are in season.

Do you cook from scratch?

- I love to cook and most of the times I cook from scratch. For example I never buy ready-made marmalade. I have berries and apple trees in the garden, and I make lemonade from scratch.

Where do you eat your food?

- We eat at the dining table and have always seen it as a gathering point for our family. But we drink coffee in the living room. This might be because a cup of coffee is more casual. Then the dinner is made more formal and solemn. It is a time where there is quietness to enjoy the food and the company, and just that.

Is it always the women who cook?

- Mostly I cook our food but my husband is cooking too. The culture in Denmark has changed a lot through times. Today there are many men who are cooking, but in the past it was primarily women who cooked.

Did Danish food mean more to you when you were children?

- There were not many other opportunities than Danish food. I am born and raised in the country, and we kept animals ourselves and grew the vegetables and fruit we needed. We were highly self-sufficient. We only got red sausages when my father was not home, because he did not think that it was “real” food.

Kirsten grew up in the country but her husband grew up in the city. His father owned a dairy, but apart from the food they were able to get there, they needed to buy their food elsewhere. Though they had some fruit and vegetables in their own garden, it was not the same as Kirsten’s family in the country. Their was a large difference between country and city back then. Time has influenced the way we eat in Denmark. For example Kirsten and her husband had never tasted bananas before they became adults. Opposite today bananas was a rare food in Denmark because it is an imported fruit.


Food is more than just food

For all three generations food is more than just food. It is something that can tell us something about who we are. And it is something that tells us how we live together. But there is a difference in which food they make and if the food, the cooking or the social gathering while eating the food is the most important. Kenneth feels that Danish food is important and that it is a part of his culture, but he does not think that he himself is cooking Danish food the traditional way as it should be, and he has no experience of doing it. On the contrary Kirsten has always eaten and cooked Danish food and she still does it. In Kenneth’s opinion it is only elderly people who can cook the Danish food because the younger generations is used to eating healthier food, which do not consist of carbon-high and fatty ingredients as potatoes and brown sauce. The food culture has changed trough times and generations. According to what Kenneth says, the youth of Denmark do not give that much attention to traditional Danish food as the elders do, but it still means something. There has been a change in what we are eating, but what we consider as “Danish food” is the same: meatballs and lemon mousse. The difference is that younger people do not often eat this because they find it unhealthy. But at the same time they mention it as “Danish food” so what they eat is apparently not “Danish food”.

Common to all three generations is that the activities during the food. Both at Kenneth’s, Bettina’s and Kirsten’s place the dinner is a gathering point for family and friends. Food cause gatherings – whether it is when cooking, dining at the dinner table or the living room table or when joining for coffee or a game after dinner.