For a millennia, the Inuit people have managed to survive off the land of Greenland, an extreme Arctic environment. Assistant Professor Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann has been conducting a two-year postdoc on the Greenlandic Diet Revolution, which looks at the microbiomes of traditional Greenlandic foods, an almost exclusively animal-based diet.

Aviaja’s work encompasses culture, climate change, nutrition, microbiology, biotech, big industry, and politics. Full of fascinating insights, this conversation will get you thinking about what health really means for humans and the planet and how the two can and can’t be connected. It’s also an important conversation to consider how vulnerable communities fit in to our global climate solutions.

  • 5:20 Overview of diet, traditions, and culture
  • 10:20 Why a plant-based diet is causing problems in Greenland
  • 26:00 Vision for the future food system
  • 30:30 How Arctic micro-organisms create big business opportunities beyond oil & gas
  • 38:00 Wisdom collected from nature and the Inuits

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Key Minutes & Show Notes

Lastly, Aviaja would love to work with top chefs on how the fascinating and rare fermented foods of Greenland could be used to gain new sorts of taste. If you’re a chef listen in at 35:50 for instructions on how to get in touch!

1:50 What is your background? How did you come to these areas of study?

In Greenland, we hold our foods very close. It’s a cornerstone of our culture.

3:10 What are microbes?

Microbes are everywhere. They are single-cell organisms that cover everything on our planet.

4:35 What makes the microbes in the Arctic so interesting?

It’s extremely interesting to look at how those microbes adapt and survive in an extremely cold and dry environment.

5:20 What is the Greenlandic Diet Revolution?

Our food culture is heathy, but very animal-based, which is against modern diet recommendations that are plant-based.

When we make a one size fits all dietary recommendation there are important nuances that get left out.

7:20 What are the main issues in applying a plant-based diet in Greenland?

We don’t discuss the differences between industrialized vs natural foods nearly enough.

8:20 What’s an example of a natural Greenlandic food?

A caribou’s stomach is one. In that case, the caribou is a herbivore so the Inuits would get their plants by eating the stomach of the animal.

10:20 How has Western plant-based recommendations affected the Inuit people?

We generally follow the Nordic diet recommendations, but the traditional Greenlandic diet would be the food pyramid turned upside down. It is a radical change for us to adapt to these diet recommendations over a few generations. By studying the microbes, we can see how a change in diet affects health.

15:40 What does healthy mean in relation to the sustainability of human diet and the health of the planet?

The relationship between a healthy planet and healthy humans may not be through plants. How the food is harvested either through industrial or environmental means makes a difference in the relationship to the environment.

19:50 What does the food culture look like today? How has it eroded?

It’s not most people’s livelihoods anymore.

21:40 What are the implications for Greenlandic society?

We don’t yet understand how these changes have affected us.

25:00 What is the importance of you being Greenlandic?

26:00 What is your vision for the food system in 10-15 years?

In Greenland, we need to acknowledge the strengths in our food and start working very purposely to not forget the knowledge on how our ancestors have eaten here and why that’s important. We need to diversify our food sources to reclaim Greenlandic traditions. We need to stop assuming that the food system is global and you can get strawberries all year round. We need to take a stand and say we’re ok with that.

For the global food system, it would be amazing if everyone could start thinking about what resources they have locally and how they can connect to their local environment. I know we can’t live as hunter gatherers all the time, but if we want to have a future where people are healthier and motivated to understand the environment, then they need to emotionally understand the land they live off of.

29:40 What are we missing to make that vision happen?

We are focusing too narrowly on plant-based foods. It’s easy to make plant-based foods that don’t give people the urge to eat healthy or protect the environment.

30:30 What opportunities do you see around Arctic biotechnology?

There’s a lot of opportunities around how to keep things in extreme environments. But we have to be critical about the commercialization of nature. We have to move away from the idea that we need to capitalize on nature.

34:00 How do we better understand nature?

We don’t really understand what a healthy person is. There are so many intricacies related to our environment. If we insist that we can only invest human and capital resources in things we understand, we will continue to destroy things that could be valuable, but we just don’t know it yet.

35:50 What collaborations are you looking for?

I’d love to work with chefs on how we could use the fascinating and rare fermented foods of Greenland in a new way of cooking to gain new sorts of taste.

38:00 What wisdom would you pass on from the Inuit people.

If someone tells you that something tastes better prepared a certain way, then there’s a reason why that should be examined to fully understand that food.

39:20 What’s the best way for someone to get in touch?