Associated with Natural History Museum, University of Oslo

Cabbages and carrots

on Sunday 24th September, the Day of the Herb Garden was held at the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo. BigPicnic was represented with three stalls where we investigated and broaden the public's knowledge about the relationship between climate change, biodiversity and food security to determine what is most important for consumers when deciding what fruit and vegetables to buy.

The Herb garden has plants used as medicine, poison, fiber, color and vegetables on display. During the day we offered guided tours and The Friends of the Botanic Garden served caraway cakes and mint tea. The event was free, and had about 250 visitors.

The vision for our institution is “natural diversity in the past, present and future” with a focus on quality and innovation. During the BigPicnic project we want to raise public awareness about the relationship between climate change, biodiversity and food security and to make sustainability an important argument when choosing food.

The goal for this event was to become better acquainted with our audience and how they feel about these topics as well as to investigate what aspects of food security different people think we should address at our upcoming exhibition. We reached out to the visitors with three different BigPicnic activities and some were interviewed.

Activity 1: What factors are important when you choose fruit and vegetables? 

Vases representing different categories (“organic”, “price”, “produced in Norway”, “minimum packaging”, “seasonal products”, “locally produced food” and “looks nice”) were displayed and the question was answered by our visitors with beans. Each person (n=129) got three beans they could put in the vases with the categories that suited them best. We had different packages of carrots that represented the different categories as a conversation starter. The beans were spread quite evenly but the top three were minimum packaging, seasonal products and produced in Norway. 

Now it's the season for many Norwegian vegetables and it's easy to forget the oranges and bananas one often buys. The choice of carrots as conversation starter possibly led people to think like this. Next time we will choose other fruits/vegetables and see if it changes the outcome. The informal conversations led to several questions, which can be difficult to answer and are relevant to future science cafes: Is organic farming better than conventional farming? 

Most people thought that packaging on fruits and vegetables is not environmentally friendly and absolutely unnecessary. What many consumers do not know, however, is that proper packaging reduces food loss to such an extent that it outweighs the emissions created.

Packages of carrots sparked conversations about what factors are important when people choose food

Photo credit: Kristina Bjureke

Activity 2: What is the similarity between a Labrador and a broccoli? They are both a result of domestication of wild species. 

That poodle, Labrador and terrier are all of the breeds dog and have the wild wolf as a common ancestor is well-known to most. Less commonly known is that brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are all the same species, Brassica oleracea. In its uncultivated form it is called wild cabbage and is native to coastal southern and western Europe. A table full of colorful varieties of the species attracted the audience and they were challenged to place name tags on well-known and less well-known cultivars of cabbage. This activity led to conversations on Crop Wild Relatives and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 

Brassica oleracea: one species great variety

Photo credit: Trine Nevrum

Activity 3: Getting input on topics for an upcoming exhibition. 

On paper shape like autumn leaves, the audience was given the opportunity to write which themes in food security they were particularly concerned with or wanted to know more about. We ended up with a tree decorated with colorful leaves. The topics that identified themselves as the most popular were food wastage, organic food and ethical food.

A tree of ideas about food security

Photo credit: Kristina Bjureke

The interviews are not yet fully analyzed. But to finish here is a quote from one of our participants: "We live in a luxury community. With that, I think there's a lot that is thrown away. It's such abundance. You can choose between hundreds of tomatoes. That is what it is like today. The future will not be, I think."